By Andrew Benson
Valtteri Bottas beat Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to pole position by the tiniest of margins at the British Grand Prix.
The Finn beat the world champion by just 0.006 seconds as Hamilton just failed to make up on his second lap for a mistake on his first run in the final session.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was a threat but ended up just 0.079secs behind in third.
The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly pushed Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel down to sixth place.
Mercedes deliver but it’s getting closer
Leclerc had looked like a real contender for pole position after setting the pace by just over 0.1secs in the second knockout session.
But he made a mistake on his first run as the Mercedes drivers came to the fore.
Hamilton had a slide when he lost rear grip in Brooklands corner on his first run, when Bottas beat him by nearly 0.3secs.
Hamilton improved on his second run while Bottas could not but it was not quite enough.
Vettel was struggling, the four-time world champion looking out of sorts all day and ending up 0.615secs slower than Leclerc, who has now beaten the German for three qualifying sessions in a row.
Differing race strategies
The close times bode well for a competitive race, and there is the added intrigue of Leclerc starting on different tyres from the Mercedes and Red Bulls around him.
The 21-year-old Mongasque will start the race on the soft tyre, while the Mercedes and Red Bulls will use the medium.
It is a similar pattern to the last race in Austria, where Leclerc led from pole position throughout only to lose out to Verstappen in the closing laps at least in part because the Dutchman had made his pit stop 10 laps later and had fresher tyres at the end of the race.
British drivers shine at home
Hamilton did not quite get the pole position he wanted at his home race, but the other three drivers with British origins all performed well.
Lando Norris, re-signed by McLaren for 2020 earlier this week, ended up eighth, behind the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo, while the Briton’s team-mate Carlos Sainz was knocked out in second qualifying – where he was just under 0.2secs down on Norris – and will start 13th.
Alexander Albon, who races under a Thai flag but was born in London and has lived in the UK most of his life, was 10th in his Toro Rosso, while team-mate Daniil Kvyat was knocked out in the first session.
And George Russell continued his clean sweep of Robert Kubica at Williams with 19th place, 0.468secs ahead of his team-mate.
What they said
Bottas: “It reminds you why you do it. It has been really close all weekend with Lewis but I just managed to get a good lap and beat him to pole.
“The first lap was good but not perfect and I should have improved on the second run but I couldn’t get the lap together.”
Hamilton: “Congratulations to Valtteri. He did a solid job throughout qualifying but ultimately [I was] not good enough. At the end, I had that mistake on the first lap and the second one wasn’t that great.”
As he was cheered by the crowd during his post-qualifying interview, Hamilton added: “It’s the best grand prix of the year. These tracks are great but without people to fill it up and bring energy, it’s nothing. We have the best fans here.”
Leclerc: “In Q2 we were quite good but then in Q3 Mercedes turned up the engine a little bit and they were very, very quick. Also round the corners is where we need to improve and we know it. Third is the best we could do and I am very happy about it.”