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.
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 had to make sure I got that lap in. I couldn’t do it last weekend (in Austria) so I made sure I could here.”
Hamilton still faced a nervous wait after race stewards announced they were investigating an incident involving French driver Romain Grosjean, who complained he had been blocked earlier in the session.
They swiftly decided to take no further action.
The Briton’s mastery of a damp but drying track lit up an overcast afternoon and the pole was the 67th of his career, sixth of the season, and gave him every chance of equalling 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 already matched Clark’s 50-year-old record of five British Grand Prix 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 like it when the conditions are tricky.”
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.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, a 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 and bringing out the red flags