So often the setting for high drama, Silverstone presented the ecstasy of a never-to-be-forgotten moment for Carlos Sainz as he claimed his first pole. Yet alongside it was agony for Lewis Hamilton, who admitted he was gutted at not being able to deliver more for a fervent home crowd at the British Grand Prix. Those fans with a suitably theatrical flourish treated Max Verstappen, who was second, to a round of booing as he emerged from his car.
For Sainz, claiming the first pole of his Formula One career after 151 meetings with a superb lap at Silverstone in extremely tricky conditions was a moment to savour. “Obviously it’s very special, especially to do it in Silverstone in the wet,” he said. “My confidence is high, I can hold on to the lead and do my own race. I have led a few races in F1 and it felt great, the target is to do it again.”
His Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc was third and Sergio Pérez fourth for Red Bull but Mercedes’ hoped-for resurgence remains to quite manifest itself, with their car certainly improved but still six-tenths back from pole. Lewis Hamilton was fifth and his teammate George Russell eighth.
Hamilton has a record eight wins here and has made the old airfield his own but it was a hard slog in this season’s recalcitrant Mercedes. The team had brought a raft of upgrades here and the British driver had been desperate to deliver.
“I am a little bit gutted really because we have such a great crowd here,” he said “I was pushing so hard to get on the front row and fight for pole position. I think we could have been in the top three. I was gunning for second at least, to end up fifth makes tomorrow tough but I know I have this amazing crowd with me, so I shall try and push forward. If I can somehow hold on to them maybe somehow I can progress. I will be aggressive tomorrow.”
Verstappen had given it his all but could not quite match Sainz, being seven-hundredths back on his final lap. With the partisan crowd still smarting from the controversial decision that cost Hamilton his eighth title in Abu Dhabi last season, Verstappen was given a chorus of boos.
“It was a bit disappointing,” he said “If they want to boo they do that. I am happy to be here, it’s a great atmosphere in general, they all have their own opinions, I don’t care.”
Hamilton, on the receiving end of booing from Verstappen fans repeatedly last season, came to his rival’s defence. “I think we’re better than that,” he said. “I would say we don’t need to do the booing.
“We have such great fans, our sporting fans feel emotions up and down, but I definitely don’t agree with booing. I don’t think we need to do that. I think we should be here pushing everybody. But I really do appreciate the support I have here. Maybe some of them are still feeling the pain from last year.”
Heavy rain had begun just before qualifying started and intensified as the session continued but Sainz delivered a superlative run under the looming grey clouds at Silverstone. With the track still very wet but the rain just abating prior to the final shootout the drivers opened by putting in repeated laps, striving to find the optimal conditions as times came down.
Verstappen looked to have the early advantage, pushing so hard on an opening lap that he did a full 360 spin in the final sector, just holding the car on track for what remained a fine sighting run. He followed it with repeated quicker laps as he and Leclerc exchanged the lead in a thrilling fight. The Dutchman appeared to have the edge only for Sainz to time his best lap of the day to perfection. His final run was immense, with a time of 1min 40.983sec. Verstappen roared in behind him giving it his all but could not match him.
This first pole was a deserved result for the Spaniard and he was understandably delighted at having finally broken his duck in the most challenging conditions on this mighty circuit.
Verstappen however has a 46-point championship lead over Pérez and is 49 points clear of Leclerc. Ferrari must consider how best to balance Sainz’s ambition for his first win with Leclerc’s need to claw back points to Verstappen. Leclerc said he would be happy to support his teammate’s attempt for victory but Sainz is 73 points off the lead and may yet be expected to give way if Ferrari give the order.
Lando Norris was sixth for McLaren and Fernando Alonso seventh for Alpine. Williams’ Nicholas Latifi did very well to make Q3 for the first time in his career with a strong run in the wet and finished 10th. Guanyu Zhou was ninth for Alfa Romeo.
Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda were in 11th and 13th for AlphaTauri. Valtteri Bottas was 12th in the Alfa Romeo, with Daniel Ricciardo in 14th for McLaren and Esteban Ocon in 15th for Alpine.
The Aston Martins of Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll went out in 18th and 20th. Alex Albon was in 16th for Williams and Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher finished in 17th and 19th.