VALENCIA, Spain, June 25, 2011 (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton is hoping to take the fight to Red Bull after a suprisingly fast pace in Saturday's qualifying for Sunday's European Grand Prix.
The 26-year-old McLaren driver will start the Valencia street race in third place, behind pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel who will set off alongside his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.
The 2008 champion said he was surprised to have finished so high up the order after struggling for grip in the morning. "I wasn't expecting to be so high up," he said. "After practice three we were struggling a little bit to switch the tyres on.
"The guys did a great job to analyse the data into qualifying."
Hamilton felt he could have improved his time but was unlikely to match the pace of the Red Bull frontrunners, so had decided to preserve his tyres ahead of the race.
He said: "My lap wasn't too bad, I tried to improve on last lap - always trying to get a bit more - but I got a bit greedy, and bailed out on last lap to try and save tyres for the race."
With the Valencia circuit being very tricky to overtake, Hamilton suggested the pit-stops and a good strategy could be the key to success.
He said: "We are as close as we could be. This is a track notorious for being difficult to overtake on.
"We will see what happens, there will be more pit stops here than we have had in the past. We have seen how other races unfolded (in 2011) so we could still have an exciting race."
His McLaren team-mate and English compatriot Jenson Button wound up sixth on the grid after struggling with a sudden and bizarre case of oversteer during the final qualifying stint.
The 2009 world champion admitted he was disappointed with his car's performance but remained optimistic about his chances in the race.
He said: "Sixth position is a bit frustrating because the car felt pretty good in Q2, and I didn't have to push it too much. So I don't know why that changed for Q3. "I had quite a bit of oversteer and I couldn't get enough rear grip or traction, particularly in the first two sectors. And that was something I wasn't expecting.
"Still, I'm sure we can change the tyre pressures and aero balance for tomorrow, so we can still have a good race."