Lewis Hamilton secured his 91st Formula 1 pole position on Saturday for the British Grand Prix, but it wasn’t the most straightforward of his career.
Hamilton’s pole position at Silverstone was an important result for him and Mercedes for more than one reason.
Not only was it the six-time world champion’s 91st pole position, but it was his seventh pole at Silverstone in eight years and it was the first time a team had secured eight consecutive pole positions at one circuit.
But, while it is nothing new to see Hamilton set the fastest time in qualifying, it wasn’t the easiest of sessions for him, despite the three tenth gap to team-mate Valtteri Bottas in second place, after a spin in Q2 caused the red flag to come out.
His performance was also in stark contrast to Friday practice, where the Silver Arrows driver suffered with poor balance, but his engineers managed to turn things round for FP3 on Saturday morning.
“We’d made some big changes overnight, we went out in FP3 and the car was actually feeling… night and day difference probably for everyone with the wind change, and the track temperature change,” said Hamilton.
“And the car was feeling pretty good but the easy thing is to stay where you are and just leave it and hope for the best but we’re always, as I said, looking to move forwards and so [we] made a couple of subtle changes and it was worse and you’re stuck with that once the qualifying starts.”
Driving a car that is struggling for balance, especially in breezy conditions around the open Silverstone circuit is no walk in the park for any driver, and that played a part in Hamilton’s Q2 spin, but it was Hamilton’s exceptional talent at overcoming issues that shone through and enabled him to turn things around.
“So, I had this inconsistency with the balance of the car and I was struggling and obviously I got into Q2, had that big snap and spin – which is my first spin in some time.
“Luckily the tyres were fine. We came in, I got to go back out on another fresh set, which was fine, but then it’s just really trying to recompose yourself and get yourself back in line because it’s really just building blocks when you go through qualifying.
“And that was probably the hardest turnaround, I would say, knowing that Valtteri had just been putting in quick lap after quick lap.”
“So to go into Q3 with a kind of fresh reset mentally, and putting in those two laps, yeah, I feel great.
“But Valtteri’s been pushing me all weekend. He’s incredibly quick here, so I think I had a tenth-and-a-half advantage to him after the first lap and I knew that he would pick up some pace in that second run, so the pressure was still on to go out and do better.
Q3 ended up being a straight fight between Hamilton and Bottas, with both drivers fighting it out for the championship at this stage of the season, and despite a scruffy Q2, the world champion set a best time of 1m24.303s, good enough for pole by 0.313s.
And while nothing should be taken away from Hamilton’s incredible final lap, Bottas conceded that he could have done better had he not struggled with the rear end of his Mercedes W11 in Q3.
“The car was feeling pretty good, just the balance of the car throughout the qualifying was drifting a bit more towards oversteer.” commented the Finnish driver.
“I don’t know if the track temp was getting higher or what was it but on both runs in Q3 I really struggled to attack the slow speed corners as I did before – and the same in Turn 12 – Turn 13. I started to struggle with the rear end – just a bit snappy.
“And at the same time Lewis obviously had a perfect lap in the end – or at least near to perfection.
“It was a pretty impressive lap time and I just couldn’t quite match it with the balance I had but otherwise it was OK.
“Obviously a bit disappointed being second, as it was a strong session otherwise – but yeah, that’s the usual.
“It is tomorrow that counts but at this point really thankful the car is so strong.”