Though the eyes of the sodden Silverstone spectators were focused on Mercedes’ British duo of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell during a damp qualifying session on Saturday, it was Formula 1’s smooth operator who finally claimed pole position in a landmark 150th Grand Prix.
Carlos Sainz has so often been the nearly man since arriving at Ferrari in 2021 and despite his enormous potential – and a car to match this year in the F1-75 – no race victories were also paralleled with no pole positions in 149 races since his debut in 2015. But no longer, as the Spaniard put his car first on the grid for Sunday’s British Grand Prix after an enthralling Q3 amid steady rain which caused chaos out on track.
Max Verstappen, who was the runaway leader in third practice and the first two qualifying sessions, will start next to him on the front row after clocking just 0.072 seconds behind Sainz, whose team-mate Charles Leclerc completed the top-three.
Reigning world champion Verstappen, who memorably crashed in the opening lap of last year’s race with Hamilton before nipping the Brit to the title in controversial circumstances in Abu Dhabi, was booed by sections of the crowd during his interview on-track after the session.
“It was a bit disappointing because I couldn’t really understand (interviewer) Billy (Monger),” said Verstappen of the crowd’s reaction.
“It was a bit of a problem. But if they want to boo me, they can do that. For me it is not going to change anything. I am happy to be here. It is a great track, a great atmosphere in general. Maybe some of them don’t like me. That is fine. They all have their own opinions and I don’t care.”
Ultimately, there was disappointment for eight-time Silverstone winner Hamilton and team-mate Russell, who will start fifth and eighth respectively tomorrow. While Russell admitted he made a mistake on his final flying lap in the wet, the seven-time world champion said he was “gutted” with only starting on the third row.
“I think we could have been in the top three; I was gunning for second at least,” Hamilton said. “To end up fifth makes tomorrow tough, but I’ve got this amazing crowd with me tomorrow so I’ll try to push forwards.”
Rain started to fall, with a heavy tailwind to match, near-enough just as qualifying began on Saturday afternoon, with numerous cars keen to get out on track as soon as the lights went green.
The downpours persisted throughout the session, with the highlight arguably coming at the other end of the pit lane, with under-pressure Williams driver Nicholas Latifi making Q3 for the first time in his career.
The Canadian, who was the only driver on the grid not to make Q2 this season, out-qualified team-mate Alex Albon in the first session before putting his car 10th to sneak into the final session, as a heavy burst of rain rendered laps late in Q2 irrelevant.
In the final tumultuous 12 minutes, Verstappen spun his Red Bull early on but managed to keep it on the gravel, while a crazy few minutes saw an unlikely front row of veteran Fernando Alonso and 2022 debutant Zhou Guanyu at one point.
Yet in the end, the front two rows on the grid had a familiar 2022 feel to it – with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in fourth – while McLaren’s Lando Norris continued to be the best of the rest behind the top-three teams, qualifying sixth while Alonso was seventh.
Sainz admitted afterwards he was surprised that his pole position lap led the pack, describing it as “nothing special.”
“It was a good lap, but I was struggling a lot with the standing water on the intermediate, there was a lot more standing water, even on the racing line, and it was very easy to get snaps and lose the lap” the Spanish 27-year-old said.
“It was also more difficult to get temperature into this intermediate for this condition. In the end I put together a lap that I didn’t think was that special just to be on the board and it was pole position which came as a bit of a surprise.”