For Lewis Hamilton, the singularly unfamiliar atmosphere for qualifying here mattered not a jot. His performance in taking pole position for Sunday’s British Grand Prix bore all the hallmarks of a driver in the form of his life, soaring around one of his favourite circuits, albeit one empty of fans.
In doing so he and Mercedes laid bare the yawning chasm that lies between them and the rest of the field this season.
Silverstone has been windswept and barren this weekend, the fans notable by their absence. The old airfield almost forlorn, without the buzz, the colour, the cheering, the revelry. Hamilton, who has been open in his admiration for the support he receives here, had expected to miss them and it proved to be the case. He did not, however, allow it to impede him.
“Normally when I approach this weekend there is a much different feeling,” he said. “There is excitement and nerves at this race knowing how many people come, through wanting to excel and deliver for everybody because you go on an incredible journey together.
“I tried to keep that in mind this weekend, whilst I didn’t have that same feeling, knowing that no one would be here. I tried to remember the past years and try get that energy and utilise it today, which is not easy.”
Hamilton had drawn his own inspiration and saved his best for last. He had not finished fastest in a session until the final runs in Q3 and had even shown a rare moment of weakness in spinning off in Q2. When it mattered, however, the Briton had Silverstone at his fingertips once more.
His first run in the final session was his best of the day and his Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, came close but ended a tenth back. Having laid down the gauntlet on the final hot runs, Hamilton delivered a strike of unerring accuracy. He went quicker, with a time of 1min 24.303sec, a track record. Bottas made a marginal error and was three-tenths off.
The rest of the field were left in a competition of their own. Max Verstappen will start third on the grid for Red Bull, but he was a full second back. Mercedes were expected to dominate but their advantage is daunting.
Verstappen as good as admitted they were all but uncatchable. “We can improve the car but the problem is the gap is so big to the guys ahead that it will be very hard to close,” he said.
Hamilton now has a remarkable 91 career pole positions and his seventh at Silverstone extends his record for taking the top spot at the British Grand Prix. Mercedes are, ominously, in a class of their own. With car design frozen to save costs in 2021, Silverstone is perhaps the true harbinger that they will hold the F1 whip right through to 2022.
Hamilton now has three poles from four races and the team three wins from three. Discussion in the paddock has already moved to whether Mercedes could secure a clean sweep of victories this season.
Hamilton has yet to sign a new contract with the team for next year and stated here that he had yet to enter discussions with them. On this evidence it is surely simply a matter of time before a deal is secure. He leads the championship, five points clear of Bottas. The Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was confident a deal would be agreed swiftly “We trust each other,” he said. “It comes down to commercial terms which we have always been abel to find an agreement for quickly. I have no concern at all. I think we will sit down shortly.”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc qualified in fourth and McLaren’s Lando Norris an impressive fifth. Niko Hülkenberg, drafted in as a last-minute replacement at Racing Point for Sergio Pérez, who had tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, acquitted himself well. His 13th place was solid given he has not raced since the last round of last season, in December, and has had to familiarise himself with his team’s car from a standing start.
The drivers will once more make an anti-racism gesture on the grid before the start on Sunday. F1 and the FIA have allocated a specific time so it can take place without being rushed and disorganised as was the case at the last round in Hungary.
Racing Point’s Lance Stroll was sixth here. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was seventh with Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon in eighth and ninth for Renault. Sebastian Vettel’s trying weekend continued, qualifying 10th.
George Russell put his Williams into Q2 for the third race in succession, finishing in 15th place
before he received a five-place penalty for failing to slow under yellow flags in Q1.