Hamil­ton equals Clark with fifth Bri­tish pole

Mercedes driver av­er­ages over 150mph in qual­i­fy­ing Gros­jean’s claims that he was im­peded are re­jected

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport - By Oliver Brown at Sil­ver­stone

A tor­rid week for Lewis Hamil­ton was res­cued yes­ter­day by his fifth pole po­si­tion at Sil­ver­stone, equalling the record of the great Jim Clark, although few of his fly­ing laps have stirred such frac­tious­ness as this.

First Ro­main Gros­jean, the Haas driver, protested bit­terly that he had been im­peded and that the triple world cham­pion should be pe­nalised. Then Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team prin­ci­pal, rounded on the French­man with a wither­ing re­buke, say­ing: “Look at his track record. He is lucky to be in For­mula One.”

With a stun­ning lap of which per­haps only he was ca­pa­ble, and where the av­er­age speed ex­ceeded 150mph, Hamil­ton pro­pelled him­self to the front of the grid for to­day’s Bri­tish Grand Prix for the third year run­ning. It was the per­fect tonic af­ter a week in which he has found his re­la­tion­ship with mo­tor­sport fans in this coun­try ques­tioned, given his de­ci­sion not to ap­pear for the For­mula One Live event at Trafal­gar Square and to take a two­day hol­i­day in Mykonos in­stead.

Barely had the cheers sub­sided, though, than Hamil­ton, a hu­man mag­net for con­tro­versy, found him­self at the cen­tre of a mael­strom once more. Gros­jean claimed he had been blocked dur­ing the third phase of qual­i­fy­ing, on the run-in to Club cor­ner, sug­gest­ing that the ste­wards’ fail­ure to sanc­tion Hamil­ton was be­cause they were cowed by his fame. “We are in a po­si­tion where we fight as hard as the boys at the front, and I was im­peded,” he said. “Maybe if it was an­other driver, there would have been some­thing. It does feel some­times that there are two types of de­ci­sion.”

This cut lit­tle ice with Wolff, who de­picted Gros­jean as a mewl­ing mal­con­tent with noth­ing bet­ter to do than to cause trou­ble. “There are some who just moan all the time,” he said. “Be­fore Gros­jean de­mands penal­ties for other driv­ers, he should look at his past.”

There was some merit to this ar­gu­ment. Barely a race goes by with­out Gros­jean, a man with an acute per­se­cu­tion com­plex, grous­ing to the Haas garage about the small­est dif­fi­culty over the in-car ra­dio. But the strength of Wolff ’s re­sponse was a re­flec­tion of a strained few days for Mercedes.

Wolff, who in­sists that he ap­proved of Hamil­ton’s break in Greece be­fore last week­end’s Aus­trian Grand Prix, had the awk­ward sit­u­a­tion of try­ing to jus­ti­fy­ing his driver’s ab­sence to the Lon­don crowds amid loud jeer­ing. Hamil­ton is now just one shy of em­u­lat­ing Michael Schu­macher’s bench­mark of 68 ca­reer poles, and Wolff said: “The ques­tion about whether a three-time cham­pion knows how to pre­pare him­self for a race is an in­sult.

“The way I op­er­ate the team, I give him free­dom to or­gan­ise his days in the way that he wants. And if he thinks that stay­ing away from the F1 en­vi­ron­ment, be­ing with his friends, helps him to ex­tract his best per­for­mance at Sil­ver­stone, then so be it.”

He was not fin­ished, in­veigh­ing against re­porters and even Red Bull coun­ter­part Chris­tian Horner, who had taken great rel­ish in ex­pos­ing Mercedes’ predica­ment, say­ing on stage: “It’s great for all the driv­ers to be here – or most of them.”

Wolff replied, acidly: “Chris­tian is al­ways try­ing to put a bit of mis­chief into the sit­u­a­tion. We flagged the risks that it could be seen as not right to at­tend the event in Lon­don. There were three boos out of maybe 20,000 peo­ple in front of us, no more. I was there, I saw it. If the su­per­star is not there, most peo­ple are not happy. I wouldn’t be happy if I was go­ing as a fan and I see that he is not there. But he took a de­ci­sion for the cham­pi­onship. The way he has been treated in cer­tain me­dia is wrong, and not fair. Be­fore his home race, and af­ter rough week­ends in Spiel­berg and Baku, treat­ing the lo­cal su­per­star in this way is ab­so­lutely against how I see things.”

In­trigue in the pad­dock re­mains in­tense about Hamil­ton’s state of mind, amid mur­murs that he was irked by Wolff ’s al­leged at­ten­dance of his archri­val Se­bas­tian Vet­tel’s 30th birth­day party. Wolff re­fused to con­firm or deny, say­ing merely that he wished to pro­tect his pri­vate life. But the driver whom he has called F1’s one true “rock star” was back in ex­u­ber­ant form yes­ter­day, hav­ing re­dis­cov­ered the pace that al­lowed

How they qual­i­fied at Sil­ver­stone

him to out-qual­ify Vet­tel by more than half a sec­ond.

Hamil­ton, who could win a fourth suc­ces­sive Bri­tish Grand Prix this af­ter­noon, said: “I grew up watch­ing Nigel Mansell with all the home sup­port, think­ing, ‘Wow, I won­der what that feels like?’ I have been truly priv­i­leged to come here for the past 10 years and re­ceive the same love.”

He was also adamant, con­trary to the protests from the Haas camp, that he had not com­pro­mised Gros­jean’s lap. “I was start­ing my lap, try­ing to get the space,” he said. “As I was about to get on the gas, I looked in the mir­rors and there was a car com­ing. If I was in the way, I apol­o­gise. I had no in­di­ca­tion from the team, but I don’t think he was that close when I pulled away.”

With each grand prix that passes, Hamil­ton is en­ter­ing in­creas­ingly rar­efied air. In Canada, he matched Ayr­ton Senna for poles, and at Sil­ver­stone he is draw­ing par­al­lels with Clark, the me­dia-averse Scot who died aged 32 in a For­mula Two ac­ci­dent at Hock­en­heim. The two could hardly be more po­lar op­po­sites: Hamil­ton the party an­i­mal, who spends much of his time off the track in mu­sic stu­dios or on fash­ion cat­walks, ver­sus Clark the in­tro­vert, who pre­ferred to re­treat to his Bor­ders farm than con­front the cam­eras.

Vic­tory to­day would re-en­er­gise his ti­tle cam­paign, af­ter he slipped 20 points be­hind Vet­tel in Aus­tria due to a five-place grid penalty, from which he could only rally to fourth.

So far, for­tune is on his side. The two Fer­raris of Vet­tel and Kimi Raikko­nen are dis­tant in his rear-view mir­rors, while the Red Bull of a Daniel Ric­cia­rdo suf­fered a turbo prob­lem. This time, too, it is Valtteri Bot­tas, his Mercedes team-mate and po­ten­tially the third man in this sea­son’s shake-up, who has re­ceived the same pun­ish­ment for us­ing a re­place­ment gear­box. The Finn starts back in ninth, while Hamil­ton has clear air in which to prove be­yond dis­pute that Sil­ver­stone is his turf.

Quick get­away: Lewis Hamil­ton (above) cel­e­brates his pole po­si­tion; and (left) ex­its the Mercedes garage to take part in the third qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion at Sil­ver­stone

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