World champion Lewis Hamilton edged out title rival Max Verstappen in British Grand Prix qualifying on Friday to take top spot on the grid for the sport’s first ever sprint race.
Hamilton clocked 1min 26.134sec in his Mercedes to beat Red Bull’s Verstappen, the championship leader, with Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes third fastest.
A crowd of around 90,000 was on hand to witness the first Friday night qualifying session in F1.
Saturday’s inaugural sprint qualifying race, the first of three this season, will be over 100km and will decide the starting positions for Sunday’s main event.
“We have been missing this for a whole year,” said Hamilton, addressing the fans.
The seven-time world champion had arrived at his home race trailing Verstappen by 32 points in the title race.
Verstappen, who was just 0.075sec off the pace in qualifying, has won the last three races.
“Red Bull were very quick in the practice session but we were staying very focused on our job and trying to layer up,” added Hamilton.
“I was in the sim this morning using it as a practice session because it’s the first time we’ve ever had a morning free, just putting in the time and to give absolutely everything. Leave no stone unturned.
– ‘Weird feeling’ –
Fans in the stands: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen drives at Luffield Corner during practice in front of 90,000 fans at Silverstone
“That first lap was great. The second one was looking even better but just lost the back end in that last corner, so my heart was in my mouth as I crossed the line.
“But I could see the crowd and it was really reminiscent of my first pole here in 2007.”
Hamilton can celebrate an eighth win on home soil this weekend and 99th of his career.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez rounded out the top five.
“We just need to look at ourselves. The car is handling quite well, but a lot of understeer – so I couldn’t attack any corners but a bit of a weird feeling to have,” explained Verstappen.
“I don’t think it was set-up or front wing related, it’s still quite close so it will be alright.
“You do qualifying and are flat out and doesn’t mean so much and you don’t get pole – it’s a weird feeling.”
George Russell, in a Williams, also had an evening to remember, finishing eighth fastest with fellow Briton Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, in the McLarens, in front of him.
“It was our best qualifying session, and to do it in front of a home crowd was such an amazing feeling,” said Russell, widely seen as a future teammate of Hamilton at Mercedes.
“I felt confident and comfortable out there which allowed me to get that extra tenth or two. Ultimately, we did a fantastic job to get there and it is about tomorrow now.
“It is not going to be easy, but we need to be aggressive and get on the front foot.”
Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in an Aston Martin completed the top 10.
The sprint race format will be repeated at the Italian Grand Prix in September and at one other, yet to be specified race this year.
Saturday’s sprint will offer championship points with three for the winner, two for second and one for third.
It will last 25-30 minutes and be run over 100km, which at Silverstone means 17 laps. That compares with 52 laps and just over 306km for the race itself on Sunday.