SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton put Mercedes on the front of the grid for Formula One’s first Saturday sprint after a fizzing Friday qualifying session at his home British Grand Prix.
The winner of Saturday’s 17-lap dash around the Silverstone circuit will take the official pole position for Sunday’s main event in front of a sell-out crowd expected to number more than 140,000.
Hamilton, who can count on the support of the massed ranks who rose to salute the Mercedes driver as he went top, will be joined on the front row by Red Bull’s championship leader Max Verstappen.
Verstappen leads Hamilton by 32 points after nine rounds but the Briton has won his home race a record seven times and will do all he can to give his army of fans another day of celebration.
“I need to bring out the lion tomorrow and give it everything,” said the 36-year-old Briton, whose once-dominant team have been beaten in the last five races. “I think I’ve got the car where I need it so we’ll see.
“We’ve been missing this for a whole year,” Hamilton said of the atmosphere. “To have a full crowd like this, to see the energy...this is down to the fans, I think.
“I could see the crowd and it was really reminiscent of my first pole here in 2007.”
Points, awarded 3-2-1, are available to the top three finishers on Saturday.
Verstappen had been quickest by a massive seven tenths of a second in the day’s only practice session, causing some consternation at Mercedes.
The Dutch 23-year-old said the car was “under-steering to the moon” in the qualifying session, however.
“I couldn’t really attack any corners, I was just waiting for the front to grip up,” he said. “Bit of a weird feeling, to be honest, to drive.
“We were still quite close so it’s alright.”.
Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas, who helped punch a hole in the air to give the Briton a slipstream, qualified third with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc fourth.
“There’s all to play for,” said the Finn. “Hopefully we have a good race pace.”
The new format is being trialled at Silverstone and two other circuits that have yet to be decided to provide more excitement over the three days.
If deemed a success, it will be expanded to more rounds next season.
“It’s a bit of a weird feeling,” said Verstappen. “You do qualifying, you go flat out and actually it doesn’t really mean anything in terms of pole position feeling.”
The feel good story of the session was Britain’s George Russell, who drew a huge cheer when he qualified his struggling Williams a hugely impressive eighth.
“It’s such a special feeling,” he said. “Every lap I could see them jumping up and cheering. I’m sure it was the same for Lando as well.”
McLaren’s Lando Norris qualified sixth, behind Red Bull’s Sergio Perez. Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo will line up seventh.
The top 10 was completed by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, ninth, and Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.
Friday’s qualifying replaced the usual second practice session but there will be another chance on Saturday for teams to get laps in before the sprint.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond and Pritha Sarkar
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