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Lewis Hamilton has been hailed as one of the most talented people to have ever walked the Earth after claiming the 100th pole position of his stunning Formula One career.
The seven-time world champion will start Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix from the front of the grid after he beat Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by 0.036 seconds at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya. Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas lines up third.
Five thousand and 82 days have passed since a fresh-faced Hamilton outclassed his reigning world champion McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso to take pole number one in only the sixth appearance of his brilliant debut campaign at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix.
Despite being a prodigious talent, nobody would have dare predict the heights the 22-year-old from Stevenage would go on to reach. But 14 years on, Hamilton is sizing up an unprecedented eighth world championship.
He already has a greater number of wins than anyone else, and his landmark pole in Spain takes him 32 clear of Michael Schumacher and 35 ahead of the Briton’s boyhood hero Ayrton Senna in the all-time list.
Incredibly, Hamilton has two more poles than the combined efforts of double world champion Jim Clark, quadruple title winner Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell, who won the championship in 1992.
“You do realise you are watching one of the most talented people to have ever walked the Earth, don’t you?” 1996 world champion Damon Hill tweeted in the aftermath of Hamilton’s extraordinary feat.
“He really is a phenomenon. I can only watch on in awe.”
Hamilton has torn up F1’s record books in the wake of his bold switch from McLaren to Mercedes at the end of 2012.
But the enormity of his achievement – his 74th pole for the Silver Arrows, a strike rate of 46 per cent – left Hamilton struggling to find the right words.
“I have been racing a long time and the 100 mark is something that I don’t think anybody, and particularly me, ever thought I would get to,” he said.
“I don’t really feel like I can compute it right now. It is a huge number and it is difficult to say how I feel. It is hard to express how amazing it is.
“But I just think about all the people that have helped me get there; the incredible group of men and women at the Mercedes factory who never cease to amaze me and continue to raise the bar.
“It is crazy that this is 100 but it felt like one of the first.
“For me, that is even more special because there have been so many qualifying sessions, so many near misses, so many mistakes and so many moments of growth.
“I feel very humbled, very grateful and I am ecstatic. I will always remember that one.”
It has become something of a cliché to say Hamilton pulled out a qualifying lap when it mattered most but in Barcelona he did it again with Verstappen poised to spoil his centurion party.
His fellow knight, Sir Jim Ratcliffe – one-third owner of Mercedes – watched the moment of history unfold alongside team principal Toto Wolff, and Britain’s richest man provided the lucky charm.
Verstappen headed into Q3 as the favourite to secure top spot before Hamilton powered his way around the 16 corners and 2.9 miles of Circuit de Catalunya asphalt to steal the glory with his first run in Q3.
“Lewis is just operating on this extreme, never-before seen level,” said Wolff. “The car wasn’t perfect and he just edged the other ones out.
“He is clearly the outstanding driver and growing as a personality on and off the track.
“One hundred poles is incredible. If you put all his pole laps together in a video, it would last two hours so that just shows what he has achieved.”
Hamilton, 36, is unbeaten on Spanish soil since he collided with rival Nico Rosberg at the fourth turn of the opening lap in 2016.
On that dark day for Hamilton, Verstappen went on to win in his maiden appearance for Red Bull, and ahead of his 100th start for the Milton Keynes team, the Dutchman’s best chance at toppling his rival could arrive on the 600-metre stampede to the opening bend.
“It is a long run to Turn 1 and a good start is key,” Verstappen, who trails Hamilton by eight points, said. “The pace is there, so I hope we can have a good race.
“We know they are hard to beat around here but to be that close, I can be happy with that.”
Join us tomorrow!
Everything is in place for a blockbuster Spanish Grand Prix. Hamilton and Verstappen on the front row and set for a race to the first corner.
Join me again on Sunday for full build-up from 12.30pm and the race which starts at 2pm.
All set for a duel in the Barcelona sun on Sunday
Final Q3 classification
Second for us here on this track is good for us. I can be happy with that. I hope we can have a good race [on Sunday].
I was making small tweaks to elevate. I can't believe we are at 100. It is down to the men and women at the factory it's been a dream to work with these guys. I feel very humbled and grateful. Who would have thought at the end of 2012 we'd be at 100. I'm ecstatic! It's like my first.
F1 history in Spain
Q3 - HAMILTON ON POLE
Nobody in the top three improves. And it means 100 pole positions for Hamilton. Stunning.
Q3 - Final run out laps
Could be a grandstand finish. The drivers are battling for a space on the track.
Hamilton's going to be first across the line here, then Bottas, then Verstappen.
Riccardo fails to make it over the line before the chequered flag. A shocker for the Aussie.
Q3 - Standings after first run
Perez - No time
Q3 - Woe for Perez
The Mexican spun at Turn 13 and was fortunate not to beach his car in the gravel.
A massive 0.7 gap between Bottas in third and Ocon in fourth.
Q3 - Hamilton leads
Norris sets the first time of the session on 1:18:010. Leclerc beats it breaking into the 1:17s. But Sainz beats him.
A SPIN FOR PEREZ. Hamilton goes fastest on 1:16:741. Verstappen is just +0.036 behind.
Q3 - Nine minutes to go...
Every single car is out and on soft tyres!
Q3 - Pole position shootout
Into the final 12 minutes of the session. Who have you got finishing on pole?
Final Q2 classification
The bottom five in Q2
Q2 - Final run
Perez goes fifth fastest. Riccardo moves up to eighth and pushes out Stroll. Mr Saturday George Russell can only finish 15th.
Bottas improves his time but is still +0.220 behind Verstappen. Both Aston Martin's fail to make it into Q3.
A bit of a shock as Gasly finishes 12th.
Q2 - Perez in trouble
Big lap needed by the Mexican. Verstappen is the only driver to stay in the garage.
Q2 - Standings after first run
Q2 - Wow
Blistering time by Verstappen. The Red Bull goes half a second clear on 1:16.922.
The gauntlet well and truly laid. Have Red Bull been hiding their pace?
Q2 - Bottas quicker than Hamilton
The softs look to be the tyre of choice due to the closeness of the times.
Hamilton sets the fastest time on 1:17:632 but it is beaten by Bottas by over two-tenths.
Q2 - Back underway
Will be interesting as always to see which tyres the drivers go for...
Mazepin finishes bottom of the timesheets again. Over 0.6s behind Schumacher. The Russian just doesn't seem at the level required for F1.
Final Q1 classification
The bottom five
Q1 - Final run...
Leclerc goes second fastest. Stroll moves up to seventh. Vettel crosses the line and is 12th but could be in trouble.
Norris goes fastest, ahead by 0.184. Tsunoda drops out and he finishes 16th. Raikkonen is also out as he can only manage 17th.
The big guns are all safely through. Should be an action packed Q2 and Q3.
Q1 - Traffic woe
Remarkably just one second is separating P1 to P15. There will be quite a traffic jam as they fight for space in the final runs.
Q1 - Top five with six minutes to go
Q1 - Advantage Bottas
After a long wait, we have some times. P1 exchanges hands between Perez, Verstappen and then Bottas on 1:18:005.
Hamilton is 0.248 behind his team-mate in fourth. The Ferraris are third and fifth. Still plenty of cars yet to set a time.
Q1 - Five minutes gone
Latifi sets the first time of the session with a 1:20:241 and is followed by the Haas.
Here we go...
Let's go racing folks! The Williams and Haas are the first cars out.
Kimi suffered a puncture in FP3 and it's been revealed his tyre was cut by a camera on one of the turns.
Some barriers need to be repaired at turn 9 and it means there will be a 10-minute delay to the session.
Important session for Bottas and Perez
Bottas and Perez have been in the shadow of their illustrious team-mates. A strong quali is much needed.
Turkish GP doubts
The race in Istanbul was one of the best of the 2020 season and it was added to the calendar after the Canadian GP dropped out.
But F1 bosses are assessing whether next month's race can take place after the country was placed on the British Government's 'red list'. Seven of the grid's teams are based in the UK, but all travellers returning from red-list countries face 10 days of quarantine at a Government-approved hotel.
An F1 spokesperson said: "We are aware of the announcement made by the UK Government regarding travel restrictions for Turkey and we are assessing the situation. We will provide more details in the coming days."
Can Williams and George Russell break into Q3?
Martin Brundle and Jenson Button both agree on Sky Sports F1 that if Hamilton wins the title this year it will be the best of his eight.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!
Barcelona track guide
Take a ride with Charles...
Mercedes back Bottas
One of the storylines going into the weekend is the future of Valtteri Bottas after a disappointing start to the season.
The Finnish driver is out of contract in the summer and his race seat is under huge pressure.
But Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff insists there will be no mid-season change.
"Unless he gets the 'flu and can't drive, he is going to be in the car," the Austrian told Sky Sports. "I see no reason to change.
"If you are not happy with your wife and you start to already look for other ones, it’s not going to improve the relationship," he added.
"I try to work on the relationship with my driver and achieve the best result for him before I’m starting to flirt with somebody else."
1 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1min 17.835secs
2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:18.070
3 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:18.308
4 Carlos Sainz Jr (Spa) Ferrari 1:18.410
5 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:18.423
6 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:18.494
7 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:18.535
8 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) McLaren 1:18.582
9 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:18.597
10 Sergio Perez (Mex) Red Bull 1:18.606
11 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Alpine 1:18.662
12 Yuki Tsunoda (Jpn) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:18.673
13 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Alpine 1:18.700
14 Lance Stroll (Can) Aston Martin 1:18.877
15 George Russell (Gbr) Williams 1:19.005
16 Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:19.214
17 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Aston Martin 1:19.363
18 Nicholas Latifi (Can) Williams 1:19.392
19 Mick Schumacher (Ger) Haas F1 1:19.999
20 Nikita Mazepin (Raf) Haas F1 1:20.237
Hello and welcome to coverage of qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.
After being denied a century of pole positions in Portugal last week, all eyes will be on Lewis Hamilton again as he aims to reach that incredible landmark. But Max Verstappen is threatening to spoil Hamilton's Saturday again after a blistering lap in the closing stages of final practice this morning.
After being half a second behind Hamilton on the mediums, the Dutchman put on some softs and finished first, nearly a quarter of a second clear. Sergio Perez finished tenth, 0.8 seconds behind team-mate Verstappen as his early season struggles continue.
Pole position is critical at Barcelona, where overtaking his notoriously difficult. Hamilton has won the last four races in Spain and his confidence is sky high after winning two of the opening three Grand Prix.
"Max has more experience now and he is clearly incredibly hungry to win more races and to win this championship so it is game on," said Hamilton. "That's what we are here to do, to race, to be fighting for wins, and the battles that we have had in these first few races have been amazing. I am excited to enjoy more.
"It is crazy to think there are still 20 races to go, and you are seeing the closest battle we have had for some time. Max has a championship-winning car and a championship-winning team who can pull off the job if we don't do ours. From my side, experience will help, but we have to get the job done."
Elsewhere, Ferrari's resurgence continues with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finishing FP3 third and fourth respectively.
Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo are evenly matched in the McLaren while Kimi Raikkonen showed impressive speed to end the session in ninth but Aston Martin seem to be struggling with Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll way down the timesheets.
Qualifying gets underway at 1pm. Stay with us for full build up and coverage from the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.