Lewis Hamilton has etched his name into Formula One folklore after equalling Michael Schumacher’s all-time record by securing pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The triple world champion, competing here in his 200th race, delivered a dominant performance to soar to the top of the order at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and claim the 68th pole of his glittering career.
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel, who earlier on Saturday committed his long-term future to Ferrari, will join his rival Hamilton on the front row, with the pole-sitter’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in third.
Hamilton has been in a buoyant mood on the sport’s return to action following its summer hiatus, and the 32-year-old Englishman, as he has so often done during his decade-long career, provided the goods when it mattered the most with a record-breaking lap.Hamilton’s best time of one minute and 42.553 seconds enabled him to finish one quarter of a second clear of Vettel, who pipped Bottas in the closing moments of the session.
F1 director Ross Brawn, the English mastermind behind Schumacher’s seven championship triumphs at Benetton and then Ferrari, delivered a congratulatory message on behalf of the German’s family.
Little is known of Schumacher’s condition after he suffered severe head injuries following a skiing accident more than three years ago.
“They want to congratulate you on equalling Michael’s record, and as Michael always said, records are there to be beaten,” Brawn said.
Hamilton, who trails Vettel by 14 points in the championship, replied: “It is special. To hear the message that Ross just gave I have to say a big thank you.
“I think and pray for Michael all the time. I’ve had the privilege of racing with him and always admired him and still do.
“I’m just honoured to be up there with him now in the poles, but he will still be one of the greatest of all time.”
Lewis Hamilton stormed to a fifth pole position for the British Grand Prix with a devastating lap in a tense and rain-affected qualifying session on Saturday.
The three-time world champion thrilled the home fans with a stunning lap of 1min 26.600sec in the closing stages to outstrip his rivals by more than half a second with Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari taking second.
“You always try to save the best till last,” said Hamilton, who faced a stewards’ inquiry for allegedly blocking Romain Grosjean, but was cleared of any wrongdoing.
“I felt very comfortable in these conditions – they are the conditions we grew up racing in here in England.”
Grosjean of Haas had claimed he was blocked and had lost three-tenths of a second, adding that Hamilton had made no effort to move aside.
Hamilton told reporters: “I was coming around to start my lap, Valtteri [Bottas] was up ahead, so I was, as we all do, trying to get the space.
“Behind me was one of the Force Indias, who then came in, so there was no-one behind me, but literally as I was about to get on the gas I looked in the mirror and saw there was a car coming.
“I don’t know if I got in the way, and if I did I apologise… I had no indication from the team that there was anyone coming and I think I just got away without blocking him.”
Hamilton drew level with Jim Clark’s 50-year-old record of five British poles and registered the 67th of his career, one shy of the outright record held by Michael Schumacher.
He will be seeking his fourth successive victory at Silverstone and record-equalling fifth overall in Sunday’s race.
He also became the first man to reel off three successive poles at the British race since 1996 world champion Damon Hill.
“This is definitely the best position to start from,” said Hamilton. “But I need to do it tomorrow for these fans here. They are amazing.”
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel was left frustrated in third in the second Ferrari ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes, although the Finn faces a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
“It felt ok, but the conditions were not easy, changing a lot,” said Raikkonen. “The car felt the best it had this weekend, but not quite fast enough for first place.”
Vettel said: “The car came alive this morning and that was really good. It’s a shame there that in the last run in Q3 there was not more time!”
RICCIARDO DRAWS RED FLAG
Max Verstappen was fifth for Red Bull ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Renault, Sergio Perez and his Force India team-mate Esteban Ocon.
Stoffel Vandoorne took an encouraging ninth for McLaren ahead of Grosjean. The session began in cool conditions with rain intensifying.
Daniel Ricciardo clocked an early lap in 1:42.966 to set the pace, but his luck soon ran out when he suffered a turbo failure and parked on the Luffield exit road.
This prompted a red flag for a five-minute delay to remove his vehicle before the action resumed, this setback leaving him 20th and last before a five-place penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change is applied.
As the circuit dried, the times tumbled with wild movements of positions.
Hamilton, Vettel and then Verstappen topped the lists before Alonso, after a late switch to slicks, clocked the best time for McLaren.
It was thrilling for the crowd, and appreciated, but after his penalties he will start from the back of the grid.
Out with Ricciardo went rookie Lance Stroll, 16th for Williams, Kevin Magnussen of Haas, Pascal Wehrlein and his Sauber team-mate Marcus Ericsson.
Once again, Vettel found reason to grumble on his team radio when he claimed he was blocked by Perez. A gesticulation and a message aimed at the stewards followed. “What is Perez doing?” he said. “That’s the second time – in Austria it was the same thing.”
But stewards promptly decided no investigation was warranted and Vettel went fastest before Hamilton and Bottas regained the top places ahead of the final drama.
Provided by AFP Sport
There have been times this season when Valtteri Bottas has seemed like an afterthought both within the four walls of Mercedes and in the broader spectrum of this season’s world championship.
But the reality is that after just nine races he is a mere 15 points behind Lewis Hamilton, supposedly the quickest driver on the grid.
In addition, following a dominant drive to victory at the Austrian Grand Prix, he is also the grateful recipient of two chequered flags in contrast to the three wins apiece for Sebastian Vettel and teammate Hamilton.
That Bottas has done so is no mean feat. Hamilton has made drivers of the calibre of Fernando Alonso look distinctly average in the same machinery and, it’s worth noting in the context of that particularly analogy, that Alonso and Hamilton were both coming fresh to McLaren at the same time.
What Bottas has done deserves to be much less under the radar then it is currently.
Hamilton already had four seasons under his belt at Mercedes before the Finn’s arrival as a replacement for Nico Rosberg during the winter, so Bottas was on the back foot from the outset.
He was solid without being spectacular in his opening races with two podiums and a sixth place before his maiden victory at the Russian Grand Prix, a circuit where he has always shone for Mercedes.
But even more impressive have been his last three races: two second places and a win warranting him 61 points. In contrast, in that trio of grands prix Vettel boasts a points tally of 40 while Hamilton has accrued 47 points.
On paper, Bottas is the current form man on the track, albeit in slightly less headline-grabbing circumstances than his two realistic rivals for the title.
What the 27-year-old must surely have warranted is a contract for next season, although on arrival at the Red Bull Ring, team boss Toto Wolff reiterated the fact his was a one-year deal with all other options on the table for 2018, with suggestions Fernando Alonso might even make the switch alongside Hamilton.
Sticking with Bottas makes total sense. He’s quick, reliable and has not rocked the boat at Mercedes – i.e. there’s not been a repeat of the histrionics that emanated from either side of the garage week in, week out in the days where Rosberg and Hamilton were inter-team sparring partners.
And Bottas also poses a realistic prospect of being world champion come the season’s end, unlike Vettel’s teammate in Kimi Raikkonen.
But therein lies a potential problem for the team as it approaches the halfway point in the season at the British Grand Prix.
Ferrari effectively know they can put all their eggs in one basket for Vettel in the title race. Team boss Maurizio Arrivabene knows it, Vettel and Raikkonen know it, and as such the team is going all out for their No1 to be victorious.
With Hamilton there might be the sense that he is first choice at Mercedes – unsurprising bearing in mind he has provided the team with two world championship titles and is an established member of the team.
I’d suggested earlier in the season that Mercedes would do well to turn their attentions to Hamilton solely in the title race, yet Bottas has proved me totally wrong, and Mercedes were right in their insistence that it was too early in the season to make such a call.
He might not be the title favourite but his second victory – this time in Austria – cements his place in the conversation.
Is that to the detriment of Hamilton’s championship charge? Yes and no.
For most drivers, being outdone by your teammate, denied points in the championship race and have part of your team’s attention taken away would be a negative.
But Hamilton has repeatedly said that the more challengers in the title race the better, within his team included, a sentiment that seems genuine. In Bottas, he truly has one now.