On a day that seemed like it was going to be Red Bull’s chance to affirm their title challenge and take pole, those honors went to Lewis Hamilton, who put in a lap of 1m 16.741s to clinch the 100th pole position of his Formula1 career.
However, based on the lap times from Free Practice 3 on Saturday morning, this milestone did not seem likely. Max Verstappen and Red Bull finally took off the sandbags late in FP3 to record the fastest time in the session with only one run in qualifying trim.
His lap time of 1m 17.835s sent shockwaves through the paddock as Max became the first driver to drop below 1m 18s all weekend. The closest Mercedes had come to that the whole weekend was a 1m 18.070s by Lewis Hamilton in the same session.
That lap from Verstappen in FP3 gave Mercedes more work to do between FP3 and Qualifying, with Lewis Hamilton admitting in a post-Qualifying interview that he had changed a lot of the balance of the car both going into and during the Qualifying session because he was anxious about the pace of the Red Bulls.
“I had a bit of anxiety about the changes that we were potentially gonna make for qualifying,” said the seven-time world champion. “You always try to make the car better, you know.”
“But it was a bit of a gamble because you also gotta keep the race in mind. Anyway, we made this change. And as soon as we got out, I was like, this is immediately the wrong one. It was really hard. And that is why I was behind the whole way through qualifying.”
“I was making small tweaks here and there to try and elevate pace-wise. But the first lap was the best lap that I got through the whole session, which is great,” Hamilton added.
Hamilton’s fastest lap of 1m 16.741s was set during his first run, which went undefeated as neither Hamilton nor Verstappen improved on their second runs.
Valteri Bottas claimed 3rd on the grid.
Sir Lewis Hamilton the GOAT?
Hamilton showed why he is the greatest of all-time in F1 with a lap that didn’t look likely given the pressure from Verstappen.
He was under pressure during the lap as Sergio Perez’s spin-off the track just ahead of him brought out yellow flags, which would have made Lewis abort his lap if he was closer to Sergio.
Luckily the yellow flags were gone by the time he got to Sector 3, where the incident had happened, which allowed him to finish his lap and take the 100th pole of his career.
The second driver on the all-time pole positions list is the great Michael Schumacher with 68 poles, followed by Ayrton Senna on 65. The closest active driver to Hamilton on the list is four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in fourth with 57 pole positions in his career.
To be the first driver in Formula1 history to reach 100 pole positions is no small feat, given the greats that have raced in F1. Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff struggled to find enough superlatives to describe his leading driver when asked about the achievement of 100 poles.
“He’s clearly the outstanding driver,” said Wolff. “A hundred pole positions and growing as a personality on and off track. Clearly, there is something that he does much better than everybody else. He wouldn’t be a seven-time world champion if that was not the case.”
“He’s just operating on this… never seen level,” added Wolff. “And today again, probably the car wasn’t perfect, and he just edged the other ones out, and the hundred poles is incredible.”
Toto also had some choice words for those who criticize Hamilton, saying he is only winning because he has the best car. “There will always be people that will see it that way,” said Wolff. “I think the stronger you get, the more jealousy and negativity you will encounter.”
“It’s totally irrelevant what somebody else says. What we think in the team is that if we would listen to all the noise that’s being said out there, we would be more distracted from our job.”
While we cannot resolve this ‘best driver versus best machinery’ debate in one article, we can say that there have been so many great drivers in great cars.
From Michael Schumacher and his incredibly dominant Ferrari to Senna, Prost, Vettel, Lauda. All these legends had the best cars at one point or another in their careers.
None of them reached this once thought-to-be impossible milestone of 100 pole positions.
If nothing else, this milestone is a testament to Hamilton’s consistency and hunger for success. It is difficult to criticize him because he is going where no driver has gone before.
He is now just two race wins away from reaching the 100 race win mark, another never-before-seen milestone in F1. We are witnessing one of the most outstanding achievements of all time in sport, and there is still more to come.