Lewis Hamilton has snatched a memorable pole position from championship leader Sebastian Vettel in a nail-biting qualifying session for the British Grand Prix.
The Englishman had fallen behind the German by a slender 0.057 seconds after the first runs of the top-10 shootout, but a blistering second run under the sizzling Silverstone summer sun won him back the advantage and put pole out of reach of the Ferrari driver.
The margin for driver 44 at his home grand prix was 0.044 seconds, and before a raucous home crowd a trembling Hamilton said it had all been a bit of a blur.
“I gave it everything I could,” said the emotional Hamilton. “It was so close between these Ferrari.
“I don’t even remember it! I honestly don’t remember it.”
The vanquished Vettel battled valiantly through the session with a neck injury sustained during morning practice, and though he was lucky to have been in the qualifying fight at all, he felt disappointed to deprived of pole position at the death.
“To be honest this morning … I wasn’t sure if I could do quali,” he said.
“It was very close. The last lap I was very happy with, but I seemed to lose a lot of time on the straights. I think it was very close.
“I’m happy with second — I think it gives us a good chance for tomorrow.”
But most disappointed was Kimi Raikkonen in the sister Ferrari car. The Finn had looked impressive in morning practice and set the fastest first and third sectors at the end of qualifying, but an error at the final chicane locked him out of the battle with a 0.098-second deficit.
“I think I had all the tools today to be faster, but I locked the front wheel into [turn] 16 and for sure gave away enough time to be on the front,” he said.
But Raikkonen remained upbeat about his chances for the race on Sunday.
“I think I’ve got a good car,” he said. “Obviously it’s hot. It will not be an easy race with tyres, so I think we might see a few different things happening here. We’re aiming for the top for sure.”
Valtteri Bottas trailed home 0.325 seconds off his teammate’s pole pace as the least competitive driver of the top two team, but he was comfortably ahead of Red Bull Racing pair Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Verstappen was 0.7 seconds slower than Hamilton’s benchmark while Ricciardo, qualifying without his drag reduction system in Q3, was a further half-second behind.
Haas teammates Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean qualified seventh and eighth, while impressive Sauber rookie Charles Leclerc outqualified Force India’s Esteban Ocon in ninth and 10th respectively.
Action was more sedate in the second session. The Haas cars consolidate their places as best outside the six frontrunners, meaning just two more drivers from the midfield would be able to qualify for the top-10 shootout.
Only 0.661 seconds covered the midfield drivers after the first runs, but almost all of them were faced with the unusual situation of being unable to improve their times on their second attempts.
Only Pierre Gasly managed to better his lap, but it was a lost cause for the Toro Rosso driver, who qualified 14th ahead of only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who underwhelmed with a time 0.6 seconds slower than that of his top 10-bound teammate, Charles Leclerc.
Nico Hulkenberg was knocked out in 11th, meaning no Renault car appeared in the shootout, with Force India’s Sergio Perez and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso fractionally behind the German in 12th and 13th respectively.
Brendon Hartley’s monster crash in morning practice left Toro Rosso without enough time to rebuild his car, leaving the Kiwi to sit out qualifying and giving one driver a reprieve from being knocked out in the first qualifying session.
Lance Stroll didn’t take long to eliminate himself from the afternoon, triggering a red flag just three minutes into Q1 by beaching his Williams in a gravel trap at turn six.
The Canadian corrected a slide in the braking zone when his car snapped to the right from underneath him, ending his session.
Cars returned to the circuit after a six-minute delay, but before long Stroll’s teammate, Sergey Sirotkin, also found himself in the gravel. Although the Russian managed to get his car running again to return to pit lane for another attempt at a lap, he was unable to set a competitive time.
That left only two drivers left to be knocked out in Q1, and the final flurry of laps saw most of the midfield rotate through the two danger positions.
Stoffel Vandoorne never seemed likely to progress and indeed the Belgian qualified a lowly 17th, almost an entire second behind McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso, while Renault’s Carlos Sainz encountered traffic on his final lap to be pipped by Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly by just 0.057 seconds.