Hamilton takes pole position for British GP ahead of Bottas

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car during the qualifying session for the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone racetrack, Silverstone, England, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. The British Formula One Grand Prix will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

SILVERSTONE, England (AP) —

Lewis Hamilton set a new track record at the British Grand Prix and clinched a record-extending 91st pole position on Saturday.

He needs five more wins to equal Michael Schumacher’s Formula One record of 91 GP victories. The defending champion is also odds-on to equal the F1 great’s record of seven world titles. Hamilton leads the championship by five points from Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

He clocked a time of 1 minute 24.303 seconds at the Silverstone circuit to clinch his seventh career pole at the track where he has also won a record six times.

“This track is just awesome,” the 35-year-old Hamilton said. “There are gusts of wind in different parts of the circuit. It’s like juggling balls when you’re on a moving plate.”

He was .313 seconds ahead of Bottas and about 1 second faster than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

“There’s a real big gap between us and third place (but) Valtteri is pushing me right to the limit,” Hamilton said.

Bottas showed good speed but ultimately fell a bit short in his bid for a 13th career pole.

“I started to drift a bit more than I wanted,” he said. “Lewis found a bit more than I did, he did a really good job and he deserves the pole.”

Verstappen won three races last season and entered this one confident his car would be fast enough to challenge Mercedes. But reality has proved different.

“Mercedes are just way too fast. You just have to accept that and do the best you can,” he said. “I’m going to fight and you have a fighting chance starting third. The newer cars are very sensitive to the wind, low speed corners and they become like a completely different car.”

Charles Leclerc gave Ferrari a small boost with fourth ahead of Lando Norris, who could face a grid penalty after failing to slow down under a yellow flag in the second part of qualifying when Hamilton made a rare mistake. He span his car and sent gravel spraying, bringing the session to a brief halt after Bottas had set the quickest time.

Vettel, who had problems with understeering and almost went off the track toward the end of Q3, was only 10th fastest in qualifying.

Red Bull’s Alexander Albon finished 12th ahead of Racing Point’s last-minute replacement Nico Hulkenberg. He lost his seat in F1 this year, and is driving because Sergio Perez tested positive for the coronavirus following a trip back to his native Mexico after his mother had an accident.

Nicolas Latifi’s Williams span off the track near the end of Q1, the latest incident in the Canadian driver’s difficult start in F1.

“It’s just a driver error, no excuses,” he said.

Kimi Raikkonen and Kevin Magnussen were also among the five drivers eliminated from Q1.

Earlier, Bottas posted the fastest time in third and final practice ahead of Hamilton and Verstappen in somewhat cooler conditions following Friday’s stifling heat.

Vettel was a miserable 14th, once again coming into the garage for repairs after a similar problem with the car’s pedals on Friday.

The fourth race of the season is again being held without fans because of virus restrictions.

“You normally have sirens and flags and smoke and the atmosphere is buzzing,” Hamilton said. “We definitely miss the fans.”

Mercedes won the first three races, Bottas clinching the season-opener in Austria and Hamilton winning the next two in Austria and Hungary.

Bottas remains confident of making it 2-2 on Sunday.

“My performance has been pretty good this weekend,” he said. “Lewis won it here last year from second place with a different strategy to me, so hopefully I will get opportunities tomorrow.”

Like Austria, Britain is hosting back-to-back races at Silverstone.

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