MONTREAL: Lewis Hamilton was both stunning and stunned on Saturday when he reeled off a set of record-breaking laps to claim pole position for Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix and was then given one of his hero Ayrton Senna’s race helmets.
The Brazilian’s family arranged the presentation to Hamilton for equalling Senna’s career total of 65 poles.
The three-time world champion Briton steered his Mercedes to a fastest time of one minute and 11.459 seconds to outpace nearest rival and world championship leading German Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari by 0.330 seconds.
Both men clocked the first-ever times recorded at less than one minute and 12 seconds at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the track where Hamilton’s career took off 10 years ago with his first win.
It was Hamilton’s third pole this year, his sixth in Canada — equalling the record of German Michael Schumacher — and the 65th of his career.
Four-time champion Vettel did his best to grab pole, but had to settle for second ahead of Finn Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes and compatriot Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari.
“I am so happy,” said a delighted Hamilton. “Montreal has been good to me over the years and it was a close battle with the Ferraris.
“They have been very quick. My lap? It was a sexy lap… A great lap!”
Hamilton secured his maiden Formula One victory in Montreal 10 years earlier in 2007 and will be racing for his sixth win at the circuit in Sunday’s race.
To mark his success in equalling Senna’s record — leaving only Schumacher’s record 68 poles to beat — Hamilton was presented with one of Senna’s helmets after the session, on behalf of the Senna family.
An emotional Hamilton said: “I am shaking… Wow… I am speechless. Ayrton was my favourite driver. He inspired me to be where I am today. To receive this is a great honour. Thank you to the Senna family.”
Hamilton was presented with the helmet during post-session live television interviews out on the circuit and was clearly surprised.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was fifth fastest ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo, Brazilian Felipe Massa of Williams, Mexican Sergio Perez and his Force India team-mate Frenchman Esteban Ocon, and German Nico Hulkenberg of Renault.
In Q1, it was clearly ‘game on’ for the leading teams, as Hamilton had forecast on Friday, and he went top with his second flying lap in 1:12.692 before Bottas trimmed that time by 0.007 seconds.
That was the final act as he joined his team-mate Swede Marcus Ericsson among the early departures together with Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne of McLaren Honda, in 16th, local hope Canadian teenager rookie Lance Stroll of Williams in 17th and Dane Kevin Magnussen of Haas.
Hamilton clocked 1:12.496 to set the early pace in Q2 with everyone running “ultra-softs” closely chased by the two Finns, led by Raikkonen. Vettel had a huge slide at Turn Three, but without crashing.
The top three returned for a second run, but without changing the order while behind them Russian Daniil Kvyat hit the wall with his Toro Rosso.
He exited in 11th place ahead of two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso in his McLaren Honda, Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso, Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Haas and in 15th place Briton Jolyon Palmer of Renault.
In the top-ten shoot-out Vettel was out first and clocked an untidy 1:12.423 before Hamilton, in 1:11.791, went six-tenths faster in a record all-time lap time for the circuit.
When Vettel responded, Hamilton did it again to create a new track record after the pair had delivered the first sub 1:12 laps in the circuit’s history.
The helmet — Senna’s 1987 season helmet when he was racing for Lotus-Honda — was cradled by the Briton as he returned to his team garage.