Lewis Hamilton claimed a thrilling last-gasp pole position on Saturday to give him the perfect launchpad for his bid to win a record 92nd Formula One race in Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix.
In denying his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in the final seconds of qualifying, Hamilton moved to within three of his 100th career pole as his team claimed its 12th pole from as many races this season.
The six-time world champion, who had trailed the Finn in all three practice sessions and in the two opening parts of qualifying, reeled off a stunning best lap in one minute and 16.652 seconds at the new Algarve International Circuit.
It was enough to outpace the Finn by 0.102 seconds and, as so often this year, to deliver heartbreak again after the pair had swapped from soft to medium tyres for their final runs.
Hamilton’s ninth pole of the season sets him up to move clear of Michael Schumacher’s 14-year-old record of 91 race wins which he equalled in the Eifel Grand Prix at Nurburgring last time out.
“It’s amazing, I can’t tell you how hard that was today,” said Hamilton. “I guess we have a great car, but you have to drive the nuts off it to pull out a lap.”
After a delay for repairs to drain covers around the circuit, the session began in warm sunshine and near-perfect conditions on the slippery, newly-surfaced track.
The Mercedes pair did battle throughout while Max Verstappen, who ended up in third for Red Bull, tried and failed to break up the F1 duopoly.
‘Digging and digging’
Hamilton had gone out ahead of Bottas for the final session and took advantage by taking two flying laps, the second completed after the flag fell producing his clincher.
“Valtteri has been so quick this weekend. He’s topped every session so I’ve just been digging and digging and digging – trying to find that extra time,” added Hamilton.
“At the end, I chose to do three laps to give me a chance to have a stab and beat his time and I think he decided to do one so I was like ‘ok, this could provide me with an opportunity’ and it worked.”
Bottas, who is 69 points adrift of Hamilton in the drivers’ title race, retained his optimism after another late disappointment.
“Obviously, at the end we decided to go for the mediums,” said Bottas. “The mediums felt a tiny bit quicker than the softs.
“It was my decision to go for one timed lap, but it seems like doing two laps for Lewis was better. Mine was a decent lap – not perfect – and it has been tricky to get really clear laps. The lap was good, but ultimately I should have gone for two timed laps.”
Verstappen finished ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez of Racing Point with Alex Albon sixth in the second Red Bull and the McLaren pair of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris in seventh and eighth places.
Pierre Gasly was ninth for Alpha Tauri and Daniel Ricciardo 10th for Renault. Verstappen, who pushed the two ‘black arrows’ to the limit, said he had struggled with his tyres. “It was so difficult to get the front and rear to match, but we were close –- not too far behind.”