After a week when he faced a storm of criticism, Lewis Hamilton delivered the only riposte that mattered with a superlative drive to sweep to pole position for Sunday’s British Grand Prix.
Some fans booed when the three-time world champion chose not to attend the F1 demonstration in London on Wednesday, but those at Silverstone simply revelled in his untouchable performance and his Mercedes team hit back at those vocal critics.
Hamilton’s fifth British Grand Prix pole matched the record Jim Clark set, and he was more than half a second clear of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. Should he convert his pole to a win he will also match Clark and Alain Prost with five wins at the race. As a statement that he is in good form for his home grand prix, it was unarguable.
Hamilton had been criticised after he chose to go on holiday as preparation for the race rather than attend the F1 event and Toto Wolff, the team’s executive director, backed his driver.
“Questioning whether a three-time world champion that has just broken Ayrton Senna’s pole record and is going to beat Michael Schumacher’s record understands how he should prepare himself is an insult,” he fumed. “If the superstar is not there, of course people are not happy. But he took a decision for his championship. The way he has been treated in certain media is wrong and not fair.”
Hamilton had defended his decision in the week and Wolff believed the fans at Silverstone had vindicated him. “I don’t see there is a big backlash because the crowds are cheering,” he said. “It’s the only country where people are cheering when he sets best sector times. People who have come to Silverstone love him, but like many other superstars he polarises – there are some who like him and some who don’t.”
There was some tension for Hamilton as he had to wait for stewards to clear him of impeding another driver but they took no action. He admitted that while his hero was Senna he was channeling a driver closer to home in Nigel Mansell, who enjoyed the adoration of the crowd when he won here on the way to his title in 1992.
“I grew up watching TV and remember seeing Nigel with the support and thinking: ‘I wonder what that feels like,’” he said. “It really is so energising. I think Nigel said it gives you a second. It definitely feels like it gives you something. You carry that energy.”