The seven-time world champion was just 0.036s faster than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen as F1’s two heavyweights of 2021 once again went head-to-head in an exhilarating qualifying session in Barcelona

Hamilton had to draw on all his skill as he produced another one of his trademark stellar laps that have ultimately enabled him to hit an unprecedented milestone of 100 poles in F1. 

He was made to work incredibly hard for his second pole of the season due to the blistering pace Verstappen was able to unleash from his RB16B, having topped final practice and sat half a second clear of the field in Q2. 

Despite not leading a single session on Saturday prior to Q3, Hamilton hit back when it mattered most to trump Verstappen, having opted for a set-up “gamble” that left the Briton heading into qualifying with “anxiety”. 

“I think we've been strong all weekend and I made some changes,” Hamilton said. 

"I had a bit of anxiety about the changes that we were potentially going to make for qualifying. You are always trying to make the car better, but it's a bit of a gamble because you've also got to keep the race in mind also.

"Anyway, we made the change and as soon as I got out I was like, 'this is the wrong one’.”

Click here for full Spanish GP qualifying results 

Hamilton explained that he immediately doubted the changes he had requested when it made his W12 car “lazy” and gave him “so much understeer”. 

However, a combination of some small adjustments and his “cleanest” lap of the weekend ended up making the difference to give Hamilton his fourth pole in the last five years in Spain.

"It was my call in the end, but it was really hard, so that's why I was behind the whole way through qualifying, and I was making small tweaks here and there to try and elevate pace-wise,” he added. 

"The first lap [in Q3] was the best lap that I got through the whole session, which was great. I tried to improve the next lap, I think I was a tenth-and-a-half up, but then I couldn't keep it.”

How Hamilton handled the situation impressed Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who said his driver was “very calm” as the team diligently attended to his requests. 

“He very much quickly said, ‘I think we went in the wrong direction’, and you could see it on the lap times, and then they were tweaking around with the diff and whatever they could,” Wolff explained. 

“He was limited with the tools that he had available and the engineers had available to really put the car in a happier place, but somehow what they did was good enough for pole.”

Wolff said that Hamilton’s “exceptional” performances were now his regular standard in F1 after he chalked up his 97th victory at the Portuguese Grand Prix, and the Austrian stood by that assessment having witnessed Hamilton further stretch out his record pole tally. 

“Every time I get asked the question about whether it was his best lap, best race, he's just operating on this extremely unseen, never seen level,” he said. 

“And today again, probably the car wasn't perfect and he just edged the other ones out and the hundred poles is incredible. 

"Andrew Shovlin [Mercedes trackside engineering director] was just saying that if you put all his pole laps together in a video, it would last two hours. So that just shows what he has achieved.”

It marked the latest sensational qualifying lap that Hamilton has delivered throughout his career. His stunning effort at the 2018 Singapore Grand Prix is still regarded to this day as one of the sport’s greatest-ever pole laps. 

Asked whether his latest pole felt worthy of being the one that made him the inaugural member of F1’s centurion club, Hamilton replied: “I think it was a great lap, and I think it’s the journey. 

“Sometimes you start qualifying and you are quick from the get-go, you’ve got the right balance and then it’s really just down to doing the best job. 

“[Here] I didn’t really have the right balance and I was behind. No matter the changes I was making I was still slightly behind, still slightly behind, still not quite there. 

“So I was making these changes and hoping by Q3, this was all I got, so I had to make the best of it.

“I do feel like it was a very, very clean and precise lap. And I guess that’s why I managed to be just ahead of Max. I’m proud of it, that’s for sure.” 

Perhaps the only blemish on Hamilton’s achievement was a scruffy first two segments of qualifying that means he will start the race on a scrubbed set of Soft tyres. That could hand his rivals a small advantage on the 600-metre run down to Turn 1. 

“There’s no real logic to it, it’s simply that I didn’t do a good enough job in Q1 on the Medium tyre,” said Hamilton, who is going for a fifth successive Spanish Grand Prix victory on Sunday. 

“They said I was on the edge so I had to go out on the Soft tyre which I wasn’t planning to do. I think we did an out-lap and came in. 

“And then we started on a new tyre for the first run [in Q2] and then went onto the one-lapped scrubbed second tyre and it was quicker so I just finished the lap and that’s the tyre I’m on. 

“It's basically got a lap more than everyone else.”

 

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