Lewis Hamilton boosted his bid to reignite his Formula One title defence at the British Grand Prix by getting his Mercedes at the top of the grid for Saturday’s sprint qualifying.
Hamilton was 0.075 seconds quicker than championship leader Max Verstappen much to the delight of a packed Silverstone crowd on a sunny Friday evening.
The home fans had much to cheer as all three British drivers made it into the top 10 with George Russell getting into Q3 for the second successive race.
“We’ve been missing this for a whole year. I’m so grateful to see everyone here,” a clearly emotional Hamilton said as the fans chanted his name. “To come to the Silverstone Grand Prix and have a full crowd like this, to see the energy ... When I was coming into it, I was hopeful that with the great work we’ve done together in the team plus the energy of the fans would get us there. So this is down to the fans.”
A new qualifying format is being debuted at Silverstone and will also take place at two more races. Sprint qualifying will be over 100 kilometres - or 17 laps at Silverstone - and the top three finishers will also receive points toward the championship as well as top the grid for Sunday’s main race. First place will receive three points, second place two points, and third place one point.
A qualifying session on Friday determined the grid for Saturday’s sprint with Hamilton edging out Verstappen in a tight session.
“We were still quite close, so it’s all right,” the Red Bull driver said. “It’s a bit of a weird feeling to be honest. You do qualifying, you go flat out and actually it doesn’t really mean anything in terms of pole position. “We’ll see tomorrow, I think we have a strong race car we just need to fix a few issues we had in qualifying. I’m quite confident still.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, will start the sprint race in third, just ahead of Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez. It was the first time in a long while that Mercedes has been quicker than Red Bull, which has won the past five races.
Verstappen had won four of those to take a 32-point advantage over Hamilton in the championship. Hamilton has not won a race since May 9 at the Spanish GP but Silverstone has long been a Mercedes stronghold with the team winning seven of the past eight races there. Hamilton has won six of those.
“It feels like such a long time since we’ve been able to get anywhere near so this is incredibly special and obviously to do it on your home turf there’s no greater feeling,” Hamilton said. “But that’s only one step forward. We’ve got obviously that race tomorrow which is going to be incredibly tough. But I think I’ve got the car in a good place. That’s when the work gets done, in the next two days.”
There were around 90,000 fans on Friday, building up to 140,000 fans on Sunday. The crowd had to provide proof of full vaccination or a negative lateral flow test taken within 48 hours of arrival. They provided loud support from the start as Hamilton drove out for the practice session.
But the gap between Mercedes and Red Bull was to surprise even Hamilton at the start of the day. Verstappen was 0.779 seconds ahead of Lando Norris and .780 quicker than Hamilton.
Mercedes brought some upgrades to Silverstone, traditionally their favourite track, and Hamilton did what he clearly felt was a good lap when the defending champion asked for the gap between him and Verstappen. “Seven tenths? Where did that come from?” Hamilton responded.