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Hamilton relishes three-way battle after Bottas pole

Hamilton relishes three-way battle after Bottas pole”

"When you feel like you're at your best and you do a good job and you're fighting against someone else who is doing just as good a job, it's that much more exciting and the more drivers we have in the mix then the more tense it gets", said Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton's team-mate Valtteri Bottas believes the fight for the championship is now a three-way battle after he sprung the surprise of the season so far to secure his maiden pole position. It was the first pole in Bottas' career.

Such an overly friendly gesture of sportsmanship is the sort of thing Hamilton had never displayed for his former teammate Rosberg, who stunned the racing and Formula One world by announcing his retirement just a week after capturing his first drivers' championship, and thus depriving the fiercely driven Hamilton a chance to get his own back.

In fact, Bottas says that he is happy with his progress so far, even if he initially struggled to cope with the anger of spinning behind the safety auto in China.

"The team knows exactly where I am with my performance and that's what counts".

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Vettel was also out on super-softs, but his first lap was only good enough for fourth after he ran wide exiting Turn 7 before setting what was then the fastest time of the session at his second attempt.

With the dusk-to-night race and qualifying run in cooler conditions, champions Mercedes appeared to be focused more on longer runs with heavier fuel loads as track temperatures hovered around 37 degrees celsius.

"It's great how close it is between the teams, it brings out the best in each driver", Hamilton said. Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton was fifth.

During P2, Hamilton had to take evasive action to avoid hitting Nico Hulkenberg's slow-moving Renault on a corner.

The team struggled a year ago after switching back to Honda engines and it looks like things are getting worse.

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In Q2, Indy 500-bound two-time champion Fernando Alonso took it easy. Team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne was eliminated in Q1 for the third race in a row, finishing 17th. He will start from 15th and needs a new engine for the race.

At the halfway mark of the 60-minute session, Toro Rosso pairing Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr held first and second place.

In the third and final practice, Verstappen narrowly beat Hamilton - but the 19-year-old Dutchman could not carry that into qualifying.

He is set to start 15th, but could drop to the back of the grid if he is required to change his Honda power unit. The more time you spend with a vehicle driving it, you get more at one with the auto.

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