Trying to pick Lewis Hamilton’s greatest pole position in Formula 1 is a bit like trying to choose Michael Schumacher’s greatest victory. Sure, some may stand out above others, but there are just so many that it’s difficult to select just one.

But if we are to go for a stand-out display from Hamilton’s 76 qualifying successes through his F1 career, then there may be a good argument for his most recent pole, clinched in a tense qualifying session for the British Grand Prix on Saturday at Silverstone.

Hamilton’s record at Silverstone over the years made him the strong favourite coming here. He started the weekend level with Jim Clark for five British Grand Prix poles, standing as the shared record, and had taken pole for each of the last three years. You had to go back to 2014 when Nico Rosberg took pole in a wet-dry Q3 for the last time Hamilton was beaten on a Saturday here. Factoring in the thinner tyre tread - seemingly working in Mercedes’ favour, as suggested by victories in Spain and France - plus the suitability of the high-speed Silverstone layout to the strengths of the Mercedes W09 car, it seemed to be a slam-dunk for the Silver Arrows.

Yet Ferrari began to show its hand on Friday, an uncharacteristic move for a team that typically turns the wick up from FP3 onwards and had topped just a single FP2 session all season. Sebastian Vettel remained wary of Mercedes, but said he wanted to “kill their magic” and finally end the streak of Silver success at Silverstone.



And he came oh-so-close - 0.044 seconds close, to be precise - to doing that on Saturday. At Hamilton’s track, on a day when English sporting hopes were resting on success both here and thousands of miles away in Samara, Russia, as the national football team bid for a place in the FIFA World Cup semi-final, forces from Germany and Italy threatened to rain on their parade.

It was a session that saw Hamilton start out far from perfect. A slight moment coming through Turn 3 on his first flying lap in Q3 left him playing catch-up to Vettel after their initial Q3 runs, the gap standing at 0.057 seconds. Vettel had his car more hooked up through the first sector, and once again it was proven that the old Mercedes advantage on the straights seen in previous years has been wiped away - Vettel was 4 kph up in the speed trap - meaning it could not be recovered through the remainder of the lap.

The pressure was squarely on Hamilton for the final runs, particularly as one of the first drivers who would be crossing the finish line. This time around, though, there was no error. He kept it clean through the first sector, gaining three-hundredths he had lost the first time around, and picked up nearly a tenth through the middle sector. Mercedes has cited marginal gains as being key to its success this year, and this was a perfect example of it. A sloppy first sector from Vettel meant that even with a purple Sector 3, he couldn’t improve his lap, handing pole to Hamilton.

He may have enjoyed all kinds of success in F1, yet Hamilton is still susceptible to getting surprised from time to time. He punched the air after learning pole was his before parking up on the main straight, meeting the baying crowd and raising his hands to his head. Jubliation and relief were the two overriding emotions.

“You’re shaking with emotion, literally!” grid interviewer Martin Brundle told Hamilton. “Oh man,” he replied. “I needed…” - he took a moment - “I gave it everything I could. It was so close between these Ferraris. The Ferraris pulled something when we got to Q3. I was just praying I could do it for you guys.”

The internet may poke fun at Hamilton from time to time over his regular praise for the ‘best fans’, but at Silverstone, his gratitude always feels its most sincere and genuine. Maybe the crowd boost was worth a little bit.

Hamilton now stands alone as holding the most pole positions at the British Grand Prix after pulling clear of Clark. The debate as to who is F1’s greatest Briton may always be between this pair - but the record books are edging in Hamilton’s favour. However, he said this one felt particularly special, more so than the others he’d scored at Silverstone.



“It feels night and day different,” he said. “I knew we were up against it, but to really put together the laps was the hardest I can remember it being. It’s such a technical circuit and such a tricky circuit. To really position the car in the right place and get the maximum from the tyres, it took everything from me to get it.

“[There was] a huge amount of pressure on today, but I’m so grateful for my team working so hard. Ferrari obviously have picked up a lot of pace this weekend, but we’re in the best position we can be and our long run pace was good yesterday. I’m excited for a close race tomorrow.”

Was it one of Hamilton’s greatest ever pole laps? The man himself thought it was up there.

“With the whole build up, the whole intensity, the whole spur of the moment thing, knowing how close we were, for me it feels like one of the best laps that I’ve been able to produce,” he said.

“I would say it felt like the most pressurised lap that I’ve ever had. Afterwards, I can’t tell you how… I was shaking through the emotion, through the adrenaline rush. It was way above the limit that I had experienced before, which is kind of crazy for my 76th. But my 76th is so special.”

His first pole lap at Montreal in 2007 stands out, as he finished almost half a second clear of teammate Fernando Alonso. The 2009 successes were significant given McLaren’s struggles throughout the year. Canada 2010 and Korea 2011 were blots of Red Bull’s blueprint. And many of his laps through Mercedes’ hybrid era domination have been stunning, such as at Monza last year, when he was dominant in the rain en route to his record-breaking pole.

Yet today at an unusually sunny Silverstone, on a day when English sporting fervour could be felt at every turn and every mention of ‘it’s coming home’, Hamilton got into the spirit with a display where he was at his absolute best.

The back (and, most probably, front) pages may be filled with excitement about England’s football glory in the two hours following the conclusion of qualifying, but we should not underplay the excellence of the sole racer flying the flag on home soil at Silverstone.


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