SILVERSTONE: Lewis Hamilton stormed to a fifth pole position for the British Grand Prix with a devastating lap in a tense and rain-affected qualifying session on Saturday.
The three-time world champion thrilled the home fans with a stunning lap of 1min 26.600sec in the closing stages to outstrip his rivals by more than half a second with Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari taking second.
“You always try to save the best till last,” said Hamilton, who faced a stewards’ inquiry for allegedly blocking Romain Grosjean, but was cleared of any wrongdoing.
“I felt very comfortable in these conditions – they are the conditions we grew up racing in here in England.”
Grosjean of Haas had claimed he was blocked and had lost three-tenths of a second, adding that Hamilton had made no effort to move aside.
Hamilton told reporters: “I was coming around to start my lap, Valtteri was up ahead, so I was, as we all do, trying to get the space.
“Behind me was one of the Force Indias, who then came in, so there was no-one behind me, but literally as I was about to get on the gas I looked in the mirror and saw there was a car coming.
“I don’t know if I got in the way, and if I did I apologise… I had no indication from the team that there was anyone coming and I think I just got away without blocking him.”
Hamilton drew level with Jim Clark’s 50-year-old record of five British poles and registered the 67th of his career, one shy of the outright record held by Michael Schumacher.
He will be seeking his fourth successive victory at Silverstone and record-equalling fifth overall in Sunday’s race.
He also became the first man to reel off three successive poles at the British race since 1996 world champion Damon Hill.
“This is definitely the best position to start from,” said Hamilton. “But I need to do it tomorrow for these fans here. They are amazing.”
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel was left frustrated in third in the second Ferrari ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes, although the Finn faces a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
“It felt ok, but the conditions were not easy, changing a lot,” said Raikkonen. “The car felt the best it had this weekend, but not quite fast enough for first place.”
Vettel said: “The car came alive this morning and that was really good. It’s a shame there that in the last run in Q3 there was not more time!”
Ricciardo draws red flag
Max Verstappen was fifth for Red Bull ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Renault, Sergio Perez and his Force India team-mate Esteban Ocon.
Stoffel Vandoorne took an encouraging ninth for McLaren ahead of Grosjean.
The session began in cool conditions with rain intensifying.
Daniel Ricciardo clocked an early lap in 1:42.966 to set the pace, but his luck soon ran out when he suffered a turbo failure and parked on the Luffield exit road.
This prompted a red flag for a five-minute delay to remove his vehicle before the action resumed, this setback leaving him 20th and last before a five-place penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change is applied.
As the circuit dried, the times tumbled with wild movements of positions.
Hamilton, Vettel and then Verstappen topped the lists before Alonso, after a late switch to slicks, clocked the best time for McLaren.
It was thrilling for the crowd, and appreciated, but after his penalties he will start from the back of the grid.
Out with Ricciardo went rookie Lance Stroll, 16th for Williams, Kevin Magnussen of Haas, Pascal Wehrlein and his Sauber team-mate Marcus Ericsson.
Once again, Vettel found reason to grumble on his team radio when he claimed he was blocked by Perez. A gesticulation and a message aimed at the stewards followed. “What is Perez doing?” he said. “That’s the second time – in Austria it was the same thing.”
But stewards promptly decided no investigation was warranted and Vettel went fastest before Hamilton and Bottas regained the top places ahead of the final drama.