Lewis Hamilton thanks Silverstone support after clinching historic Sprint pole

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A jubilant Lewis Hamilton put his Mercedes on pole position for Formula One’s first Sprint race and dedicated his performance to the 86,000 fans at Silverstone.

Hamilton arrived for the British Grand Prix without a win in five and was staring down the barrel at a heavy defeat in qualifying after championship rival Max Verstappen demolished him in practice earlier on Friday.

But the seven-time world champion fed off Silverstone’s biggest Friday crowd for a decade to upset the odds and beat his rival by just 0.075 seconds.

Lewis Hamilton crosses the line
Lewis Hamilton crosses the line (Lars Baron/POOL via FIA/PA)

Hamilton leapt from his Mercedes machine before slapping his chest and scaling the catch fencing as the euphoric spectators – the biggest UK gathering at a sporting event since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – chanted his name in return.

Hamilton was fastest after the first runs in Q3 and looked set to go even quicker before a ragged conclusion to his lap.

That afforded Verstappen a chance of the spoils, but despite improving he failed to knock the Mercedes man off top spot.

“We have been missing this for a whole year,” said Hamilton. “I have lost my voice. I am so grateful to see everyone here.

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“I was hopeful that with the great work we have done within the team, the energy of the fans would get us there, so this one is for them.

“That first lap was great and the second was looking better, but I lost the back end through the final corner and my heart was in my mouth as I crossed the line.

“But I could see the crowd and it was really reminiscent of my first pole here in 2007. I couldn’t have done it without you guys. It is incredibly special to do it on home turf. There is no greater feeling.”

F1 is ushering in the biggest change to its weekend format in the modern era with Saturday’s Sprint – one third distance of a traditional race – to determine the grid for Sunday’s British Grand Prix.

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Qualifying took place at 6pm and the revamped schedule saw Hamilton taking the almost unprecedented step of spending Friday morning at Mercedes’ simulator, half-a-dozen miles away from Silverstone.

Hamilton has not won for two months and has seen Verstappen waltz to four wins from five to establish a 32-point cushion. But he heads into the remainder of the weekend, starting with Saturday’s 17-lap dash, in a strong position.

“It was the first time we have ever had a morning free on a Friday so instead of sitting around and wasting time I said let’s get to it,” added Hamilton.

“I was in the sim and using it as a practice session and just putting in the time, trying to give everything and leaving no stone unturned.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his pole position
Lewis Hamilton celebrates his pole position (Lars Baron/POOL via FIA/PA)

“We are squeezing absolutely every ounce of performance from this thing so I am over the moon.”

A win for Hamilton on Saturday will earn him three points and pole position for the main event on Sunday.

But while Hamilton was fastest here, he will not be accredited with a pole on his official record. That will be reserved for the victor of Saturday’s Sprint.

F1 bosses are trialling the new format to spice up the show and bring in new fans. And with almost 90,000 spectators scattered across the 3.67-mile World War Two airfield the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

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One of the biggest roars of the evening was reserved for George Russell after he hauled his Williams into Q3.

“Come on, boys,” he yelled, with the young Briton further enhancing his bid to join Hamilton at Mercedes next term.

The 23-year-old qualified eighth, two spots behind his compatriot, the McLaren driver Lando Norris.

More than 100,000 fans are expected for Saturday’s Sprint and a sell-out 140,000 for Sunday’s Grand Prix.

Looking ahead to the inaugural Sprint, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: “There are two extremes. One, is that it is a train and nothing happens and the other extreme is that there is a crash and you are down the grid on Sunday.”

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