Motor racing-Hamilton denies feeling the pressure after pitlane slip

Formula One F1 - Russian Grand Prix - Sochi Autodrom, Sochi, Russia - September 25, 2021 Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during qualifying REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

(Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton denied he was feeling the pressure of the Formula One title battle after an 'embarrassing' and unusual pitlane error in Saturday's Russian Grand Prix qualifying left him fourth on the starting grid for Sunday's race.

The seven-times world champion, and most successful driver of all time, brushed the wall as he entered the pits for a change to slick tyres on a drying track in the final top-10 shootout.

The mistake, by a driver who makes very few, meant Hamilton had to wait for a new front wing and for team mate Valtteri Bottas to exit -- costing precious time and, crucially, cooling his new set of pre-heated tyres.

"It was just a mistake from myself. I'm incredibly disappointed in myself," Hamilton told Sky Sports television.

"Up until then I was in the groove, I was really in the zone.

"I'm really sorry for all the team that are here and back at the factory because obviously that's not what you expect from a champion. It is what it is and I will do my best tomorrow to try and rectify it."

Hamilton is five points behind Red Bull's championship leader Max Verstappen, who has to start at the back due to engine penalties -- giving the Briton a golden chance to go back in front.

The Mercedes driver, who had been on provisional pole after the first laps on intermediate tyres, played down any suggestion that pressure had been a factor.

"It's really nothing to do with pressure, honestly, because it really wasn't that pressure scenario. It was literally just mistakes do happen," he said.

"I knew I didn't have a huge amount of time and I was attacking. I was just trying to get through the pit lane as quickly as possible because I knew I was going to need as much time on track as possible.

"I thought the track was drying and the grip was quite good and came in and just took it a little bit quicker than normal and just lost the back end and slid into the wall.

"Of course it's not what you would expect a world champion to do but the problem when you have the success that I have is that anything but perfection feels like a long way off. But I'm only human."

Hamilton said his father called him afterwards, they talked things through and he was focused and ready to move on.

A win on Sunday would be his record-extending 100th in Formula One but the Briton has so far been unable to add to the 99th secured at Silverstone in July.

The champion said he was not superstitious, and the win would come.

"Of course I'll be giving it absolutely everything tomorrow, chasing that number 100. A big number. It feels like it's taken longer than ever before to get it but it's a pretty cool number to wait for," he said.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Clare Fallon)

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