Lewis Hamilton smashed the track record twice on Saturday to grab a record seventh British Grand Prix pole position with a stunning performance in a tense qualifying session.
Hamilton, who on Sunday seeks a record-increasing seventh Silverstone victory, finished ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas by more than three-tenths of a second after the Finn had been fastest in final practice and then again in both Q2 and Q3 when he also set lap records.
The defending six-time champion and current series leader bounced back from a ragged performance, including a spin, in the first parts of qualifying to claim his 65th pole with Mercedes and the record-increasing 91st of his career.
It was also a record eighth successive Mercedes pole success in Britain on a day when they were clear of their nearest rivals Red Bull by a full second, Max Verstappen taking third place on the grid ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Rising British star Lando Norris, 20, was fifth for McLaren ahead of Lance Stroll in Racing Point’s ‘pink Mercedes’, Carlos Sainz in the second McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo and his Renault team-mate Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel, who was 10th for Ferrari.
“This track is awesome! But it is tough out there – with the winds, it is like juggling balls on a moving plate,” said a delighted Hamilton.
“I had a spin and as you know qualifying is all about confidence and I was struggling in the first sectors of every lap, but I took some deep breaths, composed myself and in Q3 I had a clear lap and the second one was even better! It still isn’t perfect, but it never gets old.”
He added that it was strange to drive without any fans in the circuit. “Usually, it’s all sirens, flags and smoke and the atmosphere is buzzing – you get out of the car and have a different energy so I miss them, but I hope everyone is safe and happy at home.”
Bottas said: “It was a pretty good day until Q3 when I started to drift a bit with the rear – Lewis found a bit more than me and he deserved the pole.
“He managed to win from P2 last year with a different strategy to mine so I hope I get opportunities tomorrow.”
‘Way too fast’
Verstappen admitted Mercedes were untouchable. “They are just way too fast. You have to expect that and do the best you can – and that’s P3.”
After Friday’s sweltering heat, Q1 began in cool and breezy conditions with the air temperature hovering at a moderate 22 degrees and the track at 41.
Kimi Raikkonen set the first timed lap in front of the empty grandstands and neatly mown fields, but it was soon trimmed by the usual suspects as Hamilton and then a very committed Bottas went top.
Behind them, George Russell secured his third consecutive appearance in Q2 for Williams with a late fast lap as out went Kevin Magnussen of Haas, the two Alfa Romeos of Antonio Giovinazzi and Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean in the second Haas and rookie Nicholas Latifi, who spun in his Williams.
The Canadian’s car, acclaiming the work of the British National Health Service during the coronavirus epidemic, caused a flutter of yellow warning flags, which Russell sped through. A post-session stewards’ investigation was announced.
Bottas continued to dominate, setting a new track lap record in 1:25.015 before Hamilton spun at Nuffield.
The session was red-flagged for a brief halt to clear gravel, leaving only nine minutes for Hamilton, down in 12th, to ensure his passage to the top-10 shootout.
Predictably, he delivered immediately.
His lap was three-tenths off Bottas’ speed and lifted him to second ahead of Verstappen, nudging Hulkenberg down to 11th.
After a final flurry, Racing Point’s German stand-in was pushed down to 13th and eliminated along with Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, Red Bull’s Alex Albon, Daniil Kvyat in the second Alpha Tauri and Russell.
The Mercedes duel in Q3 was engaged in earnest when Hamilton smashed his team-mate’s new track record by four-tenths in 1:24.616, a time that Bottas was within 0.150 seconds of equalling before the final fray.