Valtteri Bottas snatched pole from Lewis Hamilton on another Saturday of Mercedes qualifying domination, but Racing Point super-sub Nico Hulkenberg stole the show with third.
Hamilton had beaten Bottas to provisional pole after their first laps, but a switch from the soft to the medium tire offered both an opportunity to find gains.
Hamilton’s improvement was a marginal 0.067s, but Bottas found substantially more time, turning what was a 0.116s deficit into a 0.063s advantage to edge his teammate for pole.
“Feels good!” Bottas said. “I just love qualifying, especially when it goes well. It’s really nice to get everything out of myself and out of the car.”
Starting with a 30-point deficit to Hamilton after his failure to score last weekend, Bottas says converting pole to victory is the only thing on his mind.
“The mentality is to try to win it — that’s it,” he said. “I think the race pace is there, so first job is to get a good start off the line, as I had last weekend, and go from there.”
Hamilton was visibly disappointed to miss pole but shouldered the blame for an imperfect second lap despite his improvement.
“It wasn’t that great, but Valtteri did a good job and deserved pole, I guess,” he said. “For me it just wasn’t a perfect lap.
But Hulkenberg was the afternoon’s showstopper, qualifying a sensational third in just his second qualifying session of the season.
The German improved by almost 0.4s between his first and second lap, not only taking third — albeit 0.928s off pole — but outqualifying full-time teammate Lance Stroll by nearly 0.3s.
Hulkenberg is filling in for Sergio Perez, who contracted COVID-19 before last weekend’s British Grand Prix, and has taken little time to bring himself up to speed after being dropped by Renault at the end of 2019.
“A crazy seven or eight days,” Hulkenberg reflected. “Last week, big high to come back then the low on Sunday (when his car failed to start before the race). This weekend I felt much better in the car, much more prepared.
“A bit surprised, to be honest, to stand here, but obviously a big smile on my face.”
Hulkenberg beat Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen by about a tenth, the Red Bull Racing driver finding improved pace in a switch from the medium tire to the soft for his final lap contrary to Mercedes’s findings. The Dutchman will be the only top-10 driver to start on the hard tire after using the most durable compound in Q2, potentially handing him an advantage from the second row on the grid.
Daniel Ricciardo brought Renault fifth on the grid after setting both his Q3 laps on the medium tire. Though the Australian failed to improve with his second lap, he was quick enough the first time around to relegate Stroll’s Racing Point to sixth by more than 0.1s.
Serial Silverstone overachiever Pierre Gasly qualified seventh ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in eighth and the man who replaced him at Red Bull Racing almost exactly one year ago, Alex Albon, in ninth.
Albon looked more competitive during qualifying compared to his preceding lackluster weekend but ended the afternoon five places and half a second behind teammate Verstappen. Lando Norris rounded out the top 10 for McLaren, 1.6s off the pace.
Esteban Ocon missed out on a top-10 berth by 0.126s, but the Renault driver is almost certain to start lower than 11th after a post-qualifying investigation into an allegation he blocked George Russell in Q1 out of Aintree.
Sebastian Vettel was mystifyingly adrift for the second weekend in a row on his way to 12th. He attempted to use the fastest soft tire in a last-ditch effort to crack the top 10 while most of the rest of the field stuck with mediums, but even that wasn’t enough to take him higher up the grid.
Carlos Sainz was a disappointed 13th and around 0.2s slower than teammate Lando Norris in Q2, marking the first time this year McLaren has failed to get both drivers into the top 10.
Romain Grosjean qualified 14th for Haas ahead of the Williams of George Russell.
Daniil Kvyat was eliminated in P16 after his final flying lap of Q1 was deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 15, Stowe. The Russian was also concerned after running wide over the curbs at Chapel damaged his floor, potentially setting up a very long grand prix on Sunday.
Kevin Magnussen was the slower Haas in P17, 0.2s slower than Kvyat but 0.2s faster than Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi.
Alfa Romeo teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen qualified 19th and 20th respectively — ironically 70 years after locking out the top four on the grid at the first-ever Formula 1 grand prix, in celebration of which this 70th Anniversary Grand Prix is being held.