In the end the margin was, as expected, crushing. Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday’s British Grand Prix from pole position after setting the fastest lap time ever recorded around Silverstone.
Hamilton’s blistering effort of 1:25.900 was a whopping three tenths quicker than team mate Valtteri Bottas managed. More importantly, it was over a second faster than the first non-Mercedes car, which belonged to Max Verstappen’s Red Bull.
It was not entirely straightforward. In blustery conditions, Hamilton was beaten by Bottas in the first two sessions, and even had a spin early in the second, spraying the track with gravel and bringing out the red flags. Hamilton described the challenge of trying to master his W11 in the conditions as “like juggling balls while on a moving plate at high speed” and admitted he had had to “build his confidence” through the session after his spin. “Qualifying is about building blocks and that was probably the hardest turnaround knowing that Valtteri had been putting in quick lap after quick lap,” he noted.
When it mattered, though, Hamilton did what he always does: he nailed a quick one to make it through to Q3 and then dominated the final session. “Awesome recovery, Lewis,” remarked his race engineer Peter Bonnington. “Whew,” replied Hamilton. “I’m super happy with that.”
As well he should be. The records just keep on tumbling for the six-times world champion. This will be the 91st time he starts from pole in his career and the seventh time at his home race. Hamilton already held the record here with six. The 35 year-old’s chances of converting this latest one into a record seventh race win today are rated 1-3 on with even the most generous bookmakers.
It is a seventh world title, an achievement which would draw him level with the great Michael Schumacher, which Hamilton most craves, though. A third win today would tighten his grip still further.
In truth, and barring a crash or a disaster, only Bottas looks remotely capable of challenging him. Red Bull are the next best car, but it did not escape the paddock’s attention that while Hamilton’s time was 0.7secs quicker than Bottas’ pole from last year, Verstappen himself was a fraction slower than he was in 2019.
“We are a little bit closer in the race,” argued the Dutchman. “I don’t say I am going to fight them but at least you have a fighting chance starting third.”
Behind Verstappen on the grid will be Charles Leclerc who delivered Ferrari’s best qualifying performance of the year. The Italian team have been struggling with their long run pace, though, and it would be a surprise if they managed to stay with their rivals.
Elsewhere, Lando Norris achieved a respectable fifth place on the grid for McLaren while Lance Stroll will start sixth for Racing Point, who clearly have the pace to trouble the frontrunners. It will be interesting to see how his new team mate Nico Hulkenberg, who jetted in at the 11th hour on Thursday following Sergio Perez’s positive test for Covid-19, goes today. Hulkenberg failed to make it out of Q2 and will start 13th. But his car is well capable of moving through the field. His neck may be more of an issue.
After eight months out, the German admitted the G-forces were taking their toll at one of the fastest circuits on the calendar. “Let me tell you these cars are beasts,” he said. “So much downforce, I’ve never felt so much speed in the corners, so much Gs.”
They will all be craning to catch a glimpse of Hamilton in his black rocket ship. After leading the drivers in another anti-racism demonstration – as in Austria last month some will stand and others will kneel – Hamilton will speed off in search in further history.
There will not be the usual 140,000 fans here to cheer him on. But he said he would try to harness their energy remotely. “Normally when I approach this weekend I have a different feeling which is part excitement and part nerves knowing how many people do come to this race,” he said. “Those nerves come with wanting to excel and deliver for everybody because we have been on an incredible journey together.
“I have tried to keep that in mind this weekend. Whilst I didn’t have that same feeling knowing that they weren’t going to be here, I just tried to reminisce on the past years and try and somehow get that energy and utilise it.
“It is not easy. I cannot imagine how many people will be watching, whether the energy is the same at home when it is at track. But I hope they enjoyed that one at home.”