Today's qualifying session for Sunday's British Grand Prix was among the best of the season. Unfortunately, they were also arguably the least meaningful of the season.
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have been locked in a tight battle since the first race of the 2021 season, but Verstappen has had the upper hand of late. The Dutch driver captured the last three poles, and four of the last five races, while Hamilton has not started from pole since early May. Both easily made the final round of elimination qualifying, where Hamilton quickly got a small upper hand on the first of two chances to run.
Then, with time expiring, both went out for their final laps. Hamilton seemed poised to crush his own time and set an unbeatable number, but he had a big slide in sector 3 and lost the pace. He would have to rely on his first lap, which was well within reach of Verstappen. The Red Bull driver was not quite on the pace, but he was on a fast lap of his own and had a shot heading into sector 3. He slipped up just enough, falling to second and guaranteeing a massive ovation for the English Hamilton in his home event.
But it was not his record-extending 101st pole.
The 2021 British Grand Prix sees the debut of Formula 1's new sprint races, a new part-time weekend format that adds a 100-km race on Saturday to set the final grid. Because this is the debut of sprint qualifying, and because winners of sprint races are considered pole sitters rather than race winners, there is no actual official award ready for Hamilton's exceptional performance. Instead, it is something of a pre-pole, a useful advantage that will go unmentioned in his storied resume.
The actual battle for pole will instead take place in that sprint race tomorrow. It should still be a battle between just Hamilton and Verstappen.
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