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Lewis Hamilton said his recalcitrant Mercedes car "finally felt alive" in a Dutch Grand Prix qualifying session that delivered both frustration and promise for the seven-time champion.
He starts fourth, behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen and the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, optimistic that the Mercedes' stronger race pace might enable him to fight at the front in the grand prix.
"I genuinely feel good," said Hamilton. "We have closed the gap somehow over one lap. I can't really understand why.
"But I'm hoping that means we are even closer again in the race and if we are that would be fantastic. If we can fight with these three ahead of me, that would be an amazing experience." • None Verstappen edges out Leclerc to take Dutch pole • None How to follow the Dutch GP on the BBC
Hamilton was just 0.192 seconds off Leclerc's provisional pole time after the first laps of final qualifying and was improving on his final lap when Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez spun at the final corner.
The Briton had to back off for the yellow caution flags and his lap was ruined. He ended up just 0.306secs off pole despite Verstappen and Leclerc both improving on their final laps.
In percentage terms, it was comfortably Mercedes' most competitive performance of the season, apart from team-mate George Russell's pole position in Hungary, which came about because of a unique set of circumstances on a drying track.
"I was fighting for it," Hamilton said. "It was really such a positive feeling to come from a difficult weekend, difficult result, the car is completely transformed this weekend just because of the different type of track.
"And to be fighting with only 0.1secs between us and a Red Bull, it felt very reminiscent of good times of last year. I was really hoping I could just make that little difference and potentially get ahead.
"At the end I was up [on my previous time]. Whether it was up enough be pole, probably not, but definitely fighting for the front row.
"Either way, we're close and I hope we can fight these guys in the race.
"It is a difficult race to overtake as we've seen in the past, but we've got nothing to lose. We've got to give it everything tomorrow."
The Mercedes is usually quicker in the race than in qualifying relative to the Red Bulls and Ferraris because it is more gentle on its tyres and keeps them in good shape longer than the front-running cars.
"If our single-lap to race-pace delta [difference] that we normally have transfers to tomorrow we could be in a good place," Hamilton said. "We'll see. And then it's down to strategy and those sorts of things.
"I don't think there will be overtaking on track necessarily. I'll just keep my hopes up. I want to see the end of the race this time. It sucks not seeing the end of the race."
Hamilton crashed out on the first lap in Spa last weekend after misjudging an overtaking move on Alpine's Fernando Alonso.
In Belgium, the Mercedes was slow because the team had to raise its ride-height to stop it smashing into the ground at two key points of the track. That meant it ran too high to produce its optimum downforce.
In Zandvoort, by contrast, they can run it at is optimum ride-height for downforce generation. And the abrasive track surface was enabling Mercedes to overcome another weakness that has afflicted them this year - difficulty generating optimum tyre temperature for one quick lap.
Hamilton said: "I think they were still too quick for us if I'm really honest but I think we would have been fighting for the front row. At least third. But we were very close to the front row, so lots of positives to take from it."
"It has a characteristic of a human being," he said. "You come [to the track] so hopeful, and then it's like: 'No, I don't want to go quick.' And then another time it's like: 'OK, I'm down.'
"You don't know what side of the bed you are going to catch this car. I am sure people can relate in relationships."
Russell qualified sixth, also denied a final lap by Perez's error, but admitted that the best he could have done would have been to beat the Mexican to fifth.
"To be within touching distance of a great result is much more satisfying," Russell said. "But ultimately we are still lacking a couple of tenths of qualifying performance
"I think there was a bit more potential in there [for me]. Lewis did a great job. It was a good lap. Not good enough to fight at the front. Probably P5 just behind Lewis."
After a run of difficult races, during which Verstappen has moved effectively out of touch in the championship, Leclerc said he was relieved to be back fighting with his title rival for pole.
He said a mistake on his final qualifying lap at Turn 10, when he went in too fast and ran wide, had probably denied him pole.
"The lap was in the car and I just didn't put everything together. But anyway, happy because it has been now four or five races that I am not very happy with the balance in qualifying.
"I got a bit more front end [grip], which I struggled with for a few races now.
"In the race we always seem to find the right balance but in qualifying we struggle quite a bit. Carlos and I are starting right behind Max so hopefully this can be a little bit of a help."
Verstappen recovered well after losing a whole session on Friday because of reliability problems and looked extremely strong throughout qualifying until the Ferraris closed in during the top 10 shoot-out.
Verstappen said the characteristics of Zandvoort, which rewards a high-downforce set-up compared to high-speed Spa where he crushed the field, had brought Red Bull back to the rest of the field.
"We have a complete car," he said. "You can see how quickly it changes, though, because in Spa we were dominant. Here it looked a bit tricky initially and it was close in qualifying. On the high-downforce tracks we struggle to get the most of the car but it is still a quick car.
"I think it will be close [with Ferrari] but I am looking forward to it and I hope we can have a good race."
Verstappen has been cheered by a capacity 105,000 crowd of orange-clad Dutch fans all weekend.
But enthusiasm got the better of one of them in qualifying when a flare was thrown on to the track, causing a delay to qualifying.
Verstappen said he appreciated the support of his home fans, but called the actions of the person who threw the flare "stupid", adding: "You get yourself kicked out and can't watch the race."
The fan was identified and ejected from the track, F1 said. • None Steve Coogan chats to Nihal Arthanayake about British humour and cancel culture • None 'Policies we improvised became law within years' The creative force behind Alan Partridge talks about his cultural influences