With a freshly inked contract extension in his back pocket, an inspired Valtteri Bottas got the bit between his teeth to beat Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton to pole position, as super sub Nico Hulkenberg took a remarkable third for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone.
The Finn set the pace in every single segment of qualifying, but was on the backfoot after the first runs in Q3 as Hamilton sauntered to the top of the timesheets. But Bottas refused to be rattled and while Hamilton improved again on his next effort, this time the Finn had an answer.
This was his 13th career pole position and sets him up nicely for the second successive race at Silverstone, having suffered the misery of a tyre deflation last time out when running second, with the Finn likely to be buoyed by the fact he has won the last two races he has started from P1.
But the most impressive performance came from pink car of Nico Hulkenberg. The German was parachuted in to replace Sergio Perez, following the Mexican’s positive test for Covid 19, last weekend but failed to take the race start because of an engine issue. This weekend has been much smoother, with Hulkenberg comfortably beating regular race driver and team mate Stroll in all segments of qualifying.
His final effort was superb, the former Renault racer setting the third best time, inside a second of the dominant Mercedes and one tenth of a second clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Daniel Riccardo was an impressive fifth, equalling Renault’s best of the year.
Stroll had no answer to Hulkenberg as he ended up three places back in sixth with Pierre Gasly continuing his brilliant start to the 2020 campaign with a stunning seventh for AlphaTauri. Charles Leclerc could do no better than eighth, which is Ferrari’s worst performance at Silverstone since 2014, with team mate Sebastian Vettel failing to escape Q2.
Alexander Albon ended up half a second behind team mate Verstappen, but he did at least comfortably make it through to Q3 this weekend after an early exit last time out. Lando Norris closed out the top 10 for McLaren.
Bottas got the better of Hamilton in the opening foray, the Finn edging the reigning world champion to the fastest time by just 0.080s. They were comfortably clear of the Red Bulls, with Alex Albon having a much more straightforward time of it this time around at Silverstone.
The Thai driver did two runs, his second good enough for third, one place clear of Max Verstappen, who was so confident of his pace he only did the single run, allowing him to save tyres for later in the session.
Elsewhere, there was drama for George Russell as he appeared to be blocked heavily by Esteban Ocon, the Williams driver describing the Frenchman’s driving as “properly dangerous”. Stewards said they would investigate the incident after the race.
Both drivers made it through, with Russell impressing again as he made in through to Q2 for the fourth successive race, once again showing how much Williams have improved and how well the Briton is currently driving.
Daniil Kvyat ran wide at Stowe, and reported he thought the floor was damaged in the off-track excursion. The AlphaTauri driver was the best-placed driver to fail to make Q2, with Kevin Magnussen, Nicholas Latifi and the Alfa Romeos of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen also dropping out.
Knocked out: Kvyat, Magnussen, Latifi, Giovinazzi, Raikkonen
Bottas made it two from two in 70th Anniversary GP qualifying, as he set the pace once again, though, interestingly it was super sub Hulkenberg who was second quickest, the Racing Point driver a staggering four tenths quicker than team mate and regular race driver Lance Stroll, son of the team’s owner.
Hamilton was only third, with nine of the top 10 setting their best laps on the medium. The outlier was Max Verstappen, who rolled the dice and ran the hards instead. Succeed and he would start the race on the most durable tyre, allowing him to run deeper into the race before fitting the fastest softer tyre, on lighter fuel.
Of course, he got the job done, with the ninth quickest time – but there was yet more misery for Sebastian Vettel as he failed to reach Q3 for the second time this year. That compared to missing Q3 just once last year.
The driver replacing him at Ferrari, Carlos Sainz, also got the boot, as McLaren failed to reach Q3 with both cars for the first time this season. But perhaps that’s not a surprise – has he has only reached Q3 once in his as five attempts at Silverstone.
Ocon, Grosjean and Russell were the other drivers to fail to make it into Q3.
Knocked out: Ocon, Vettel, Sainz, Grosjean, Russell
Hamilton has had the better of Bottas in qualifying in the last three events, but the Finn was having none of it at Silverstone this time around. He found a rhythm early in the session and though he was second, 0.116s adrift, after the first runs in Q3, he made no mistake on his final run to snatch the prime starting spot for Sunday.
Ricciardo popped in a quick lap on his first run to sit third, ahead of Hulkenberg, with Verstappen fifth as the Red Bull driver was unhappy with his medium tyres. But that trio swapped positions after the final runs, with Hulkenberg coming out on top, edging out Verstappen, as Ricciardo slipped to fifth.
Albon was a strong sixth after the first runs, but he dropped to ninth, as Stroll, Leclerc and Gasly all improved, while Norris remained 10th and last of the runners throughout.
The 70th Anniversary Grand Prix kicks off at 14:10 tomorrow. Mercedes start on pole for the ninth consecutive race at Silverstone, and have their 67th front row lock out, extending records on both counts. Bottas has dropped back in the title race, but can he re-ignite his championship charge by converting pole position into a second victory of the season?