Stiffness wasn’t the only pain in the neck that Sebastian Vettel had to face at Silverstone on Saturday. After curtailing his final practice session to have treatment, he found Lewis Hamilton in irresistible form as the reigning champion snatched back pole position in a dramatic climax to qualifying that thrilled a sun-soaked partisan crowd desperate to see their hero start the British Grand Prix from the front of the grid.
The discomfort that the German downplayed afterwards could be quantified – 0.044s. That was the difference between the two title protagonists when the dust had settled and Hamilton, shaking with emotion and adrenaline rush, had reversed their first Q3 runs to grab his 76th pole position and his sixth at the circuit he loves.
“It feels like a night and day difference to the others, as Ferrari really pulled something out in Q3,” he enthused. “We knew we were up against it. This is such a technical circuit. You have to position the car in the right places and maximise the performance of the tyres. It took everything. I really, really wanted to give the fans and England a boost, or whatever. Start a wave and let them continue it. So there was a huge amount of pressure on today.”
After he had shared fastest times with Vettel in Friday’s practice sessions, Hamilton was back on top in the final session this morning. Then Vettel went ahead in Q1 before Hamilton responded with fastest time in Q2.
The see-saw continued when Vettel posted 1m 25.936s to displace Hamilton’s 1m 25.993s on their first runs in Q3. But Hamilton screwed himself up to lap in 1m 25.892s on their second run, and as Vettel failed to improve, pole position changed hands. As if that wasn’t sufficient pressure, only a brief lock-up prevented Vettel’s partner Kimi Raikkonen from bettering 1m 25.990s for third place ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and the breathless Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
“Our level of downforce has been good,” Hamilton said, “but you can see how close it has been between us and Ferrari. This has been a strong circuit for me for quite a few years and my job is to make the difference. I didn’t leave anything on the table today, the lap was just intense.
“The first lap was okay, pretty good, but then I saw I had dropped to second behind Seb, so naturally that adds a little bit more pressure, and as he’d improved I had to improve as well push over the limit that little bit more. This is the fastest track in the world, we are flat-out through Turn 1 and Copse, going flat out into Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel at 330 kmh, and it’s incredible how fast we are into Stowe with a tailwind. At the end of the lap I was up just a little bit over the start/finish line and I was praying that it was enough. I can’t tell you how happy I am, and for the fans.
“For me, with the build-up and the whole intensity, it feels like one of best laps I’ve been able to produce. It felt like the most pressured lap ever had, I’m shaking. I can’t tell you the adrenaline rush, it was way above the limit I’ve experienced before. So this 76th pole is so special, and I’m so, so happy to be able to deliver.”
If, as he had alluded to on Friday, lapping fast round here is like flying a fighter jet round the track, he was Top Gun. But there will be a massive dogfight in Sunday’s race. Besides the sheer speed of the latest breed of F1 cars around the resurfaced but bumpy Silverstone, the ambient and track temperatures will make it a very hard race.
“Ferrari picked up a lot of pace this weekend but we are in the best place and our long-run pace is good, so I’m excited and looking forward to a close fight with them tomorrow,” Hamilton said.
Vettel was not so sure, believing that the lower speeds with higher fuel loads would reduce the cornering speeds to more tolerable levels.
“My neck was an issue in practice but fine in quallie,” Vettel admitted. “I had to call it a bit earlier than I wanted to in practice and I don’t know what happened. It went stiff but we loosened it up. The night will help ease it up further and we won’t be cornering so fast tomorrow, so I’m not worried.
“This morning I didn’t think I could fight for the pole, I was not even sure I could do quallie. But in the end it was very close. If you are the right side of that it’s always better. But I was happy with my last lap, and knew I had a bit more in the final sector, but though I found that I seemed to lose time on the straights, I’m not sure why. In the end it was less than half a tenth, so practically the same lap between us. But I think they were just better on that final run.
“But I’m happy with second place. It gives us a chance. The car was very quick yesterday and I am confident it can be faster tomorrow, as the race has always been better for us. So I’m quite content with everything and that we are stronger and can be faster.”
“I think it is going to be very tough,” Hamilton admitted. “The track will be the hottest we have driven for a long time, and the speeds through the corners and the G forces we will be pulling, will definitely make it physically tougher and more intense, so being so close in quallie I think it will remain that way all through.
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