After a controversial week for Lewis Hamilton and faced with a barrage of criticism for missing the ’F1 Live’ event in London, the Englishman produced one of the best laps of the season to qualify in pole for the British Grand Prix and roundly silence his critics.
Hamilton’s hot lap in Q3 was flawless ending 0.547 seconds in front of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and a huge 0.756 seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel.
Qualifying was made all the more challenging with light rain falling during Q1 and drying conditions making tyre choice critical.
Alonso delivered a storming last-gasp lap in Q1 on slicks to set the fastest time but a 30-place grid penalty for fitting a new engine, ICE and MGU-K will see him starting from the back of the field. Daniel Ricciardo suffered turbo problems during qualifying and will take his place on the grid next to Alonso.
Also beset by a 5-place grid penalty is Valtteri Bottas who will now begin in ninth after struggling for grip in a disappointing Q3.
Hamilton Untouchable at Home
The mercurial champion prepared for the British Grand Prix by holidaying in Greece instead of attending the ‘F1 Live’ event in London, his absence particularly conspicuous given he was the only driver not participating and it is his home race.
Arriving at Silverstone to a mixed reaction – with some sections of the crowd booing – Hamilton set about proving himself on the track.
Hamilton put in the first marker of Q3 with a fast 1m 27.231s ahead of Vettel on 1m 27.430s, Bottas on 1m 27.580s and Raikkonen on 1m 27.622s.
But he really turned up the wick on the final hot lap producing a superlative lap to set a time of 1m 26.600s. Both Ferrari’s struggled to match the pace, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fifth ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, the Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Haas’ Romain Grosjean.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff came out in defence of Hamilton saying: “I don’t see there is a big backlash because the crowds are cheering. People who have come to Silverstone love him but, like many other superstars, he polarises. There are some who like him and some who don’t.”
Hamilton’s fifth British Grand Prix pole matches the record set by Jim Clark and most of the usually raucous spectators around Silverstone showed their appreciation, the Englishman likening the support to that received by 1992 champion Nigel Mansell.
“Nigel said it gives you a second. Maybe it’s half a second. It feels like it gives you something,” he said. “It is so energising. You carry that energy.”
But the Mercedes front man pointed out that Ferrari are still a real threat on race day.
“The start’s going to be important,” explained Hamilton.
“They are very quick in the race. Provided I can get out in front I think I can give them a real good run for their money. I can’t say right now whether I can pull away. That would be the plan.”
Williams Fail, Renault Improve
The Williams drivers of Massa and Stroll again struggled during qualifying only managing a disappointing 15th and 16th.
The inexperienced Stroll found qualifying difficult in his first wet drive while Massa just couldn’t punch out the required pace.
Paddy Lowe saying after qualifying: “We are all hugely disappointed as the strong pace of the car isn’t reflected in this grid today, but the car should be good tomorrow, and we’ll see what we can do from 15th and 16th.”
Meanwhile, fellow mid-markers Renault had their best qualifying since returning to the sport 18 months ago.
Hulkenberg put his R.S.17 into sixth position but will start from fifth with other grid penalties.
“I had a good rhythm and we had good time.”
“The team made the right calls for the right track conditions; there was a nice flow. I was feeling calm and confident with the car so I was able to produce a good lap.”
His team-mate Jolyon Palmer starts the race 11th in front of his home crowd.