86,000 watch as Hamilton takes pole for sprint race

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Lewis Hamilton thrilled a crowd of 86,000 at Silverstone to take pole position for Saturday’s new sprint race at the British Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver beat title rival Max Verstappen’s Red Bull by 0.075 seconds to secure top spot for the new 17-lap race introduced this weekend.

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was third ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

McLaren’s Lando Norris was sixth and there was an outstanding display by Williams’ George Russell in eighth.

“It has been such a difficult time for everyone and we finally have all the fans at the British Grand Prix and the desire to deliver for everyone is beyond belief,” said Hamilton.

“We watched the England game the other day, you see how much passion there is in England. It was a difficult time for everyone and I was hoping I could do my part in bringing something positive. It is only the first step but, wow, what a fantastic way to end the day.”

Mercedes’ British driver Lewis Hamilton (left) and Red Bull’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen shake hands after the sprint qualifying session of the Formula One British Grand Prix at the Silverstone motor racing circuit in Silverstone, central England on July 16, 2021. (Photo by LARS BARON/AFP)

Vintage Hamilton at Silverstone

Hamilton set the time that mattered on his first lap in final qualifying. He was on course for a quicker time on his final run but made a mistake, sliding wide at the penultimate corner, Vale, and losing time.

But while Verstappen did improve on his final lap, it was not enough to supplant Hamilton and the seven-time world champion sent the crowd into raptures.

Already this is the biggest crowd at a sporting event in the UK since the start of the pandemic – and there are more to come over the weekend, with 140,000 due to attend the Grand Prix on Sunday in predicted temperatures of close to 30C.

It was a vintage performance from Hamilton, helped by the Mercedes team’s first upgrades since the Spanish Grand Prix in May, but it is not another pole position to add to his tally of 100 – officially the driver who wins Saturday’s ‘sprint’ will be classified as the pole position winner.

And it was an important change in form after four wins in five races by Verstappen, who has opened a 32-point championship lead.

Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Great Britain during practice/qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 16, 2021 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

The crowd chanted Hamilton’s name as he did his post-session interview and he basked in their adulation.

Hamilton said: “We have been missing this for a whole years, I have lost my voice a little. I am so grateful to see everyone here. To come to Silverstone and have a full crowd like this. You feel the energy. I was hopeful with the great work we did at the team and the energy of the fans would get us here. This is down to the fans.

“The first lap was great and the second was looking even better but I just lost the back end in the last corner and my heart was in my mouth as I crossed the line.”

Verstappen said: “The car was handling quite well but just a lot of understeer so I couldn’t really attack any corners, just waiting for the front to grip up. A weird feeling to drive, I don’t think it was set-up or front wing related, we are still quite close so it’s all right.”

And the 23-year-old said the new format being trialled this weekend – and planned for a further two races at some point this season – was “a bit of a weird feeling”. (BBC Sport)

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