Finn fastest by 0.006sec ahead of Mercedes teammate
Leclerc third for Ferrari, Red Bull’s Verstappen fourth
A moment of collective exhalation and the swaths of union flags held aloft in anticipation of celebration sagged downwards across Silverstone. The tensest of finales here failed to stick to the script as Valtteri Bottas denied Lewis Hamilton pole position for the British Grand Prix by the finest of margins.
As the huge crowd slumped back to their seats there was an air almost of disbelief. Here, then, was the twist in the tale they had not anticipated – a reminder that their hero, despite his overwhelming dominance in the past on the old airfield, could still be bested. Bottas had spoiled their party but more is sure to come on Sunday.
Ferrari’s hoped-for challenge failed quite to materialise, with Charles Leclerc in third and Sebastian Vettel managing only sixth. Max Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull with his teammate, Pierre Gasly, fifth.
Bottas took the place with an exceptional lap on his first run in Q3, setting a time of 1min 25.093sec.
On his first hot run in the final third Hamilton was quickest in the first and third sectors but had a moment of oversteer through Brooklands in the middle sector and Bottas was quicker by three-tenths. When they emerged for the final time the expectation was Hamilton would pull something out of the bag on his final run, as he has done so many times before. The crowd held their breath in expectation of emitting a mighty roar but, as the British driver crossed the line, Bottas’s time stood by a margin so small as to be almost invisible – six thousandths of a second across a 3.66-mile lap.
Bottas had not improved on his second run and, although Hamilton had managed to string together three strong sectors, he was still not happy with his final lap. “It just got away from us,” he said.
Yet despite the strong support at the circuit, Hamilton was forced after qualifying to once again defend his decision to live in Monaco, when he was asked if his “Britishness” was in question. “It is crazy because I remember growing up and watching Jenson Button and all the youngsters coming through and they all migrated to Monaco,” he said. “Nobody ever said anything. Of course, when I did, they had something to say.
“No matter how often you go abroad or elsewhere in the world, you come back to the UK. This is where my heart is. I am fully British. I go to these races and I lift the British flag proudly. There is no one else in this sport that has raised it so high.”
Bottas rightly celebrated beating Hamilton at his home circuit in front of a fiercely partisan crowd, a major result for the Finn. The cameras had followed Hamilton’s lap, as had the crowd, but Bottas’s first run was as good a performance as he has delivered in qualifying this season. He blasted through the sweeping fast corners that define Silverstone but was also inch-perfect through the challenge of Brooklands, Luffield and Woodcote, obviously finding the relaid smooth surface to his liking.
He has out-qualified Hamilton now by four poles to three and badly wants to ensure he converts his latest effort into a win. In China and Spain, where he had pole, he was beaten off the line by Hamilton, who went on to take victory. The championship leader has four wins from the last five races and leads Bottas by 31 points, with Vettel 74 points back.
Bottas clearly desperately wants to prevent Hamilton from romping away with it, however. The Finn took a dominant win in Australia and was similarly strong in Baku for his second victory; he needs to back them up by taking the flag here to return the pressure to Hamilton.
“The championship fight is still on,” Bottas said. “I am the one chasing, I am behind but there are so many races to go and it is up to me and my performance. Every opportunity there is now I need to take. If I don’t, Lewis is going to be far away and out of reach. So tomorrow is super important but so is the race after and the race after. The season is long and I need to take those opportunities and I will do everything I can to keep that lead tomorrow.”
Hamilton, too, was sanguine that he still has more to come. He has six wins this season and another here would make him the most successful driver at the British Grand Prix, surpassing the record of five he shares with Jim Clark and Alain Prost. He showed great pace in his long runs in practice and was optimistic about his chances.
“It is just qualifying. As you have seen, a lot of the races it doesn’t necessarily determine what happens in the race,” he said. “It is great to start at the front. It makes your day a little bit more simple. But I am proud to be a part of locking out the front row. Valtteri and I have a great relationship but we always want to beat each other. The duel is who can do a better job tomorrow.”
A sellout crowd of 141,000 fans will be there to see if he can do it. Their hopes will be refreshed, their spirits buoyant once more. The victory would be Hamilton’s were it decided by the crowd but this is a race both drivers desperately want to win and certainly Leclerc believes he, too, may have a part to play. Another tense afternoon awaits on the Northamptonshire-Buckinghamshire border.
Vettel and Leclerc set their best times in Q2 on the soft tyres, perhaps looking for extra grip off the line in contrast to Hamilton and Bottas, who will start on the medium rubber. Pirelli believe the tyre wear will be such that the teams will have to adopt a two-stop strategy.
McLaren’s Lando Norris was once again very strong, with eighth place. Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg were in seventh and 10th for Renault, with Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon in ninth.
Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Räikkönen were in 11th and 12th, with the second McLaren of Carlos Sainz in 13th. Roman Grosjean was in 14th for Haas and Sergio Pérez was in 15th for Racing Point.
Kevin Magnussen finished in 16th for Haas, in front of the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat. Lance Stroll once again went out in Q1, finishing in 18th for Racing Point. George Russell and Robert Kubica were in 19th and 20th.