Lewis Hamilton had said all week he was feeling uncomfortable in his car. When it mattered most at Silverstone, though, Hamilton delivered a blazing lap to take pole position for the British Grand Prix.
The 2008 champion won his 28th pole with a time of 1:29.607 on his final lap, besting teammate Nico Rosberg who moments earlier had clocked the fastest time of 1:30:059. Three-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel was third just ahead of his teammate Mark Webber, who is taking the track this weekend for the first time since announcing Thursday he was leaving the sport at the end of the year.
"Storming job, Lewis, storming job," the Mercedes team said over the radio as Hamilton crossed the line.
Fans, many waving British flags and holding signs in support of the home drivers, were on their feet cheering in a great homecoming for the former F1 champion who made his name at McLaren but angered many of his supporters by switching to Mercedes this season. Critics predicted Hamilton would fail and McLaren's Jenson Button would fill his shoes. Instead, Hamilton has outperformed his rival, earning three podiums compared to none for Button.
"It feels incredible to be on pole, just like it did back in 2007," said Hamilton, who won the race here in 2008 on the way to the overall title.
"My lap in Q3 was a lap for the fans out there around the circuit," Hamilton said. "I haven't been feeling comfortable in the car all weekend, so I was really happy to find a good lap and this feels fantastic. The team has done a phenomenal job and it's a great reward for the guys here at the track but also back at base, especially as our two factories are so close to the track. But we know that tomorrow is another day and our Sunday performance isn't quite as strong right now."
Rosberg, who was fastest in practice and had been strong in recent weeks winning Monaco and earning pole in Spain, said he relished the competition with former karting rival Hamilton.
"It's a big battle we have. Usually it's close, not today," Rosberg said. "Lewis had a great lap in the end. It's a really big push for the team that we are pushing each other all the time. It's fantastic momentum we have at the moment."
Vettel was full of praise for his rivals.
"They are bloody quick in qualifying. They seem to be in a different world on Saturday afternoon," Vettel said. "They manage tires pretty well which allows them to get a good lap."
The 25-year-old German believes he still has a good chance to win Sunday — noting that Mercedes struggles to transform its qualifying success into wins. Rosberg took pole in Bahrain but Vettel won the race.
"We will see what happens tomorrow. It's a long race," Vettel said. "I was very happy with the lap I did at the end, it was very close with Mark also. We did what we could for the team and it's always nice to position well in qualifying, especially around here — qualifying is good fun and I'm enjoying the high-speed corners. We'll see how we get on with the tires tomorrow and with looking after them."
With 12 races remaining, Vettel has a 36-point lead over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. Lotus driver Raikkonen is another eight points back in third and Hamilton is fourth.
The surprises of qualifying were Paul di Resta of Force India who finished a career-best fifth and Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo who starts sixth.
"I'm over the moon with the qualifying result and I think the whole team can feel very satisfied with fifth on the grid," said Di Resta, who is Scottish. "The morning practice session was quite difficult so it feels great to come through and end up just behind two Mercedes and two Red Bulls. This track takes a lot of commitment and you need to build up your speed, but I think we saved our best till last — and that's when it mattered."
The strong showing for Ricciardo could help the Australian in his bid to replace Webber at Red Bull. The team said Friday it is looking at Kimi Raikkonen, Ricciardo and the other Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne as a replacement. Vettel came from Toro Rosso, which is also owned by Red Bull.
"Coming off the back of a bad couple of races, I expected to be strong here and I was more motivated than ever," Ricciardo said. "However, if I'd been told I could be sixth this afternoon, I would have been surprised. We were very close to Di Resta in fifth, but we can be happy with this position."
While Hamilton had a good day, the rest of his rivals struggled. Raikkonen will start ninth and Alonso 10th — his worst place on the grid this year.
"We can consider this the worst Saturday of the season so far, having never finished so far down," Alonso said. "But now we must react immediately to try and return to the form we showed at the start of the year. We definitely expected a lot more here, because this is a track that suits our car's characteristics better than others."
Raikkonen also said his team has work to do.
"It's not ideal as we'd like to be nearer the front of the grid, but it is what it is," Raikkonen said. "We'll go into the race wanting to get a better result than we did in qualifying. Usually this is what happens for us and hopefully that is the case again tomorrow."
It was also disappointing qualifying for home favorite Jenson Button, whose McLaren team has all but given up on challenging for the drivers' championship this season. The 2009 champion just missed out on Q3 by 0.05 seconds and will start 11th while Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who crashed in practice on Friday, settled for 12th.