By Alan Baldwin
SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton put in a sensational late lap under intense pressure to seize pole position for his home British Formula One Grand Prix from Mercedes team mate and title rival Nico Rosberg on Saturday.
The triple world champion had just one chance to secure the top slot after an initial effort in the final top 10 shootout was deleted because he exceeded the track limits at Copse corner.
With championship leader Rosberg on provisional pole, and Hamilton 10th as the clock ticked away and fans held their breath, the home hero made sure of his 56th career pole and fourth at Silverstone.
“It was not the cleanest qualifying session,” said Hamilton who set a time of one minute 29.287 seconds. “I touched the kerb and it just pulled me further… the car bottomed and kind of bounced just outside of the line.
“So a lot of pressure on that last lap. I was just sitting in the garage and I knew that I couldn’t let the guys down… The second lap wasn’t as good but I was making sure I got that lap in. I’m grateful that I did.”
Huge cheers went up around the circuit as Hamilton lit up the screens, with a 140,000 crowd expecting to witness his third successive British Grand Prix win on Sunday and fourth in total.
“Lewis in Silverstone with the crowd behind him, it gives him an extra one tenth,” said the team’s non-executive chairman Niki Lauda.
Rosberg, who has an 11 point advantage over Hamilton after nine of 21 races, had to settle for second place on the grid.
The German also had a scare when he was summoned to see stewards for an alleged rules breach at the start of qualifying, but they decided to take no further action.
Mercedes team bosses will be watching nervously on Sunday after collisions between their drivers in three of the last five races.
Hamilton and Rosberg have been told they are on a final warning, with new rules of engagement and the threat of tough sanctions if they make contact again to the detriment of the dominant team.
“I will try not to be in that position again,” said Hamilton, while Rosberg added that the rules were ‘very clear’.
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen outqualified his Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo for the first time since his promotion to the senior team from Toro Rosso, with the pair filling the second row with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen fifth.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel qualified sixth but will have a five place grid penalty for the second race in a row due to a gearbox change.
That will move the Williams of Finland’s Valtteri Bottas alongside compatriot Raikkonen on the third row in sixth place.
Hamilton was not the only driver to have a lap deleted for exceeding the track limits, with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg suffering the same fate and dropping to eighth behind Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso will start ninth but his 2009 world champion team mate Jenson Button failed to get through the first phase and starts 17th for what could be his final home appearance.
The team said a rear-wing endplate on Button’s car became detached from the floor during the lap, causing a loss of downforce. Mechanics tried to fix it but ran out of time.
There was confusion after the first phase with Button thinking he was out and leaving the garage, before returning to the car when it looked like Renault’s Kevin Magnussen was going to have his time deleted.
That would have sent Button through to the second phase but it turned out to be a false alarm.
Sauber’s Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson did not take part in qualifying after being taken to hospital for checks following a big crash in final practice. The team said he had been given the all-clear and was returning to the track.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)