NURBURGRING, Germany (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton delighted a vast crowd of Mercedes fans when he secured his second pole position in succession on Saturday with a dramatic fastest lap in the final seconds of qualifying.
Just a week after his dazzling feat at Silverstone in the British Grand Prix, he did the same again ahead of Sunday's German Grand Prix with an assurance that stunned his rivals.
The 28-year-old Briton, world champion in 2008, clocked a fastest lap of one minute 29.398 seconds in his Mercedes to outpace nearest rival Sebastian Vettel by one-tenth of a second in a dramatic finale to a tense hour's action.
It had looked as if the Red Bull driver's lap was fast enough for pole as he sought to set himself up to bid for a first win on home soil in the 60-laps race until Hamilton had the last word.
It was Hamilton's third pole position of the season and the 29th of his career, pulling him level with Argentine legend Juan Manuel Fangio and defending triple world champion and current series leader Vettel in the record books.
Vettel's Red Bull team-mate Australian Mark Webber was third fastest ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen and his Lotus team-mate, Frenchman Romain Grosjean.
In an unexpectedly brilliant display of pace, F1's second Australian, Daniel Ricciardo, qualified sixth for Toro Rosso ahead of the two Ferraris of Brazilian Felipe Massa and Spaniard Fernando Alonso - the Italian team having changed strategy to run
on medium-hard tyres in the third qualifying session.
Briton Jenson Button was ninth for McLaren and German Nico Hulkenberg 10th for Sauber on an afternoon when Hamilton's team-mate German Nico Rosberg missed the cut and qualified 11th.
Both Button and Hulkenberg chose not to clock a time in the session as they, like the Ferrari men, opted to go for race strategy instead of grid positions.
Hamilton said: "It's really overwhelming. I've been struggling since the first run in P1. It was pretty good, but P2 and P3 were disasters and it got worse this morning. I wasn't comfortable with the car at all.
"We went back to the truck, tried to analyse everything and made lots of changes and hoped it would work. Fortunately the car was beneath me and I was able to put in the times.
"I'm grateful to the guys and all the hard work they put in. It's a privilege to drive for this team, they've got great history and this is where Mercedes really started. I'm proud to get pole, but there are no points for today.
"These guys (Red Bull) are good on the long runs. I hope, with my new set-up, that the pace will be as good and we can given them a run for their money."
Vettel said: "Congratulations to Lewis - he did a great job. It was quite close and I tried everything I had. The car felt fine, even after we struggled a little bit this morning, but we are much closer to them here than we were in Silverstone."
Webber said: "I'm not sure what happened, but we're happy to be where I am.."
On a dry, hot day in the Eifel mountains, with an air temperature of 25 degrees Celsius and a track equivalent rising beyond 41, the opening Q1 session brought disappointment and some sadness as team owner Frank Williams saw both of his team's drivers eliminated on the weekend of their 600th Grand Prix.
Rookie Finn Valtteri Bottas, who had qualified third in the rain in last month's Canadian Grand Prix, was 17th ahead of his Williams team-mate Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, winner of last year's Spanish Grand Prix.
Bottas said: "We got more or less the most out of the car that we could. We just don't have the pace. That's how it is at the moment...."