By Alan Baldwin
SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton took pole position for his home British Grand Prix for the third year in a row on Saturday with a sensational lap that left him one step away from Michael Schumacher’s Formula One record.
Hamilton’s championship-leading Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel, who has a 20-point advantage after nine of 20 races, qualified third on a drying track after steady drizzle throughout the morning.
The Mercedes driver was half a second quicker than Ferrari’s second-placed Kimi Raikkonen and his time of one minute 26.600 seconds was so outrageously quick there were gasps before the crowd erupted.
“I always try to leave the best to last,” the Briton told retired champion Jenson Button in post-qualifying interviews on the grid.
“I needed to make sure I got that lap in. I didn’t do in the last race (in Austria) so I really made sure I saved it this weekend.”
Vettel recognized Hamilton had been out of reach.
“I think he owned the pole position today,” said the German.
Hamilton still faced a nervous wait while stewards investigated an incident involving Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who complained he had been blocked by the Mercedes driver.
They swiftly decided to take no further action, to Grosjean’s evident disgust.
“I was impeded today. Maybe if it was another driver there would have been something,” he fumed.
The Briton’s mastery lit up an overcast afternoon and the pole was the 67th of his career and sixth of the season, giving him every chance of equaling Schumacher’s record 68 before the August break.
The triple world champion has won the last three British Grands Prix and can equal the late Jim Clark’s feat of four home wins in a row, and five in total, on Sunday.
Saturday ensured he has matched Clark’s 50-year-old British record of five home pole positions.
“I feel amazing in front of a great crowd like this. I hope you liked the lap,” Hamilton told the grandstands full of cheering fans.
“I generally like it to be dry but I quite like the conditions when they’re tricky. These are typical English conditions. This is where I grew up, this is what we grew up racing in.”
Hamilton’s Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas, winner in Austria, was fourth fastest but has a five-place penalty following a gearbox change.
That promoted Red Bull’s Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, who has suffered five retirements in the last seven races, to the second row.
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and his former Force India team mate Sergio Perez filled the third row.
There was good news for beleaguered McLaren, who raised a cheer when Fernando Alonso made the most of improving conditions to set the fastest time in the first phase of qualifying, with Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne qualifying ninth.
That was the first time he had outqualified Alonso, who has a 30-place grid penalty, and will move up a place thanks to Bottas’s drop.
“It was nice to hear people cheering. It’s good for the guys in the garage as well,” said Alonso.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, winner in Azerbaijan in June, will join Alonso at the rear after a gearbox penalty followed by the car halting on track in the first phase with a suspected turbo failure and bringing out the red flags.
“Better (to have problems) today than tomorrow,” said Ricciardo. “But better to not to have them at all.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond)