MONACO, (Reuters) – As a child racing go-karts and dreaming of Formula One glories to come, Lewis Hamilton was always in awe of Ayrton Senna and eager to emulate him.
The Mercedes driver has matched already the late Brazilian’s three championships and sailed past his 41 career wins and on Saturday, at the Monaco Grand Prix, he can equal Senna’s 65 pole positions.
If he does, and the Briton faces a big battle after Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel set the fastest lap ever around the harbourside circuit in Thursday practice, the location will be fitting.
This weekend is the 30th anniversary of the first of Senna’s record six wins in the Mediterranean principality, with a statue unveiled at the Fairmont Hotel, in the presence of Senna’s niece Bianca.
Photographs and memorabilia are also on display at the Yacht Club de Monaco.
“I’m one away from matching his qualifying record, which just doesn’t seem real,” said Hamilton, a Monaco resident who has had three poles in five races this year. “I feel very honoured to be up and amongst the greats.
“I don’t really feel like there is any pressure. If it happens this weekend, it happens. If it doesn’t, it will happen. I will get another pole at some stage.”
Mercedes have won the last four Monaco Grands Prix and Hamilton, who has twice triumphed at the most glamorous of circuits, returns after a memorable victory in Spain.
He is still six points behind Vettel, with the title rivals having won two races each.
Senna famously talked of a magical ‘perfect lap’ around Monaco after taking pole in 1988 with a time 1.4 seconds quicker than French team mate Alain Prost, who joined him on the front row.
Hamilton, with only one Monaco pole to his credit so far, played down talk of such an experience even if he loved racing around the circuit.
“Of course there’s an incredible feeling when you feel like you are as close to the edge, that dreamline edge that you’re trying to get close to every year. I’ve never had that here,” he said.
“I’ve had good laps here that have felt very close, but… you can always find millimetres here and there. That’s the great thing about this sport. If we hit the perfect lap, then I don’t know, what’s next beyond perfect?
“I love that there’s a constant chase, a constant challenge. The target’s always moving, so you might touch it for just a split second, but then it shifts and moves somewhere else. That’s what I love about it.”