Racing Point supersub Nico Hulkenberg qualified a sensational third in just his second weekend back in F1 filing in for the COVID-19-infected Sergio Perez.
Mercedes was in a class of its own in the battle for pole, the black cars qualifying almost a full second quicker than Hulkenberg’s pink machine, but the intrateam battle for pole was tight.
Hamilton, poleman and winner of last weekend’s British Grand Prix at the same circuit, took an early lead with his first lap of the top-10 shootout, but Mercedes made the counterintuitive decision to run both drivers on the less sticky medium-compound tyre for their second runs.
The warm weather at Silverstone and the unusually brittle tyres meant there was little to pick between the soft and medium compounds.
Both drivers improved, but Bottas found more time, shaving almost two tenths off his first effort to overhaul his teammate by 0.063 seconds.
“It’s really nice to get everything out of myself and out of the car,” said Bottas, who failed to score last weekend thanks to late-race tyre failure. “I just love qualifying, especially when it goes well.”
With a 30-point deficit to close to his table-topping teammate, Bottas needs a perfect Sunday conversion to reinvigorate his title hopes.
“The mentality is to try to win 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 lamented an imperfect second lap yielding only a 0.067-second improvement as the reason for his pole loss.
“It wasn’t that great, but Valtteri did a good job and deserved pole, I guess,” Hamilton said. “For me it just wasn’t a perfect lap.”
Though the fight for pole thrilled, Hulkenberg’s superb third place for Racing Point stole the show.
The German, dropped by Renault at the end of 2019, was a late call-up for Sergio Perez last weekend but failed to take the race start thanks to a clutch problem.
Another positive COVID-19 test for Perez on Friday gifted Hulkenberg a second chance, and with the benefit of last week’s running the 32-year-old has been competitive from the off, not only topping the midfield in qualifying but beating teammate Lance Stroll by three places and 0.3 seconds.
“This weekend I felt much better in the car, much more prepared,” he said. “A bit surprised, to be honest to stand here, but obviously a big smile on my face.
“I’ll try to learn fast and keep the car where it deserves to be.”
The lofty grid spot is a welcome morale boost for the team, which was fined €400,000 (B14.7 million)and docked 15 points this weekend for improperly designing its brake ducts using Mercedes intellectual property.
The penalty will be appealed by Racing Point to clear its name but also by five rival teams that want harsher measures levied for the breach.
Max Verstappen qualified fourth and a tenth down on Hulkenberg, but the Dutchman will be the only top-10 driver to start on the hard tyre for the race, winning him a potential strategic advantage today.
Daniel Ricciardo was third at the end of the first runs after setting a time on the medium tyre, but the Australian couldn’t improve the second time around, dropping to fifth.
But even without improving the Renault driver outqualified Stroll in the sister Racing Point, the Canadian set to start sixth.
Pierre Gasly qualified seventh ahead of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari in eighth.
Thai driver Alex Albon was closer to teammate Verstappen for much of qualifying but lost out with his final lap, giving up half a second to the Dutchman to qualify ninth and just ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Esteban Ocon qualified 11th but will start 14th after serving a three-place grid penalty for blocking George Russell out of Aintree during Q1.
Promoted to 11th is Sebastian Vettel, who is enduring another inexplicably horror weekend in his Ferrari. Carlos Sainz will move from 13th to 12th for McLaren, and Haas driver Romain Grosjean will be promoted from 14th to 13th.
Williams driver George Russell will start 15th.
Daniil Kvyat was knocked out of Q1 in 16th after having his final flying lap deleted for running off the track at Stowe. He also appeared to damage his floor running wide over the newly extended kerbs at Chapel, compounding a frustrating afternoon for the Russian.
Kevin Magnussen qualified 17th for Haas ahead of rookie Nicholas Latifi in his Williams.
Alfa Romeo locked out the back row of the grid for the so-called 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, held in celebration for the first-ever F1 grand prix in 1950 at which Alfa Romeo locked out the first four places on the grid.