Hamilton calls Malaysia pole ‘real surprise’ after practice struggles

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Formula 1 championship leader Lewis Hamilton made no secret of his surprise after sweeping to pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday, having struggled for pace throughout practice.

Hamilton finished over a second behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in FP2 on Friday and was still behind in final practice despite switching back to the old aerodynamic package for his Mercedes W08 car.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying, eventually taking pole by 0.045 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen as Vettel suffered an engine issue that resigned him to the back of the grid for Sunday’s race.

“Today we had no idea how it was going to go and I am sorry for whatever happened to Sebastian because he was very quick through practice,” Hamilton said after qualifying.

“Somehow we turned it around. The engineers did such a great job yesterday. The car felt great so it is a real surprise to be up here with these guys but I am really grateful.

“We are going to have a tough race against these guys, particularly the Red Bull pair as they had good long run pace yesterday and today.

“I hope our car has moved in the right direction for the race run but we will see tomorrow.

“It is a long run down to turn one so a lot can happen.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.