Formula 1 has shaken up the weekend format for the British Grand Prix, moving qualifying to Friday and having it set the grid for ‘sprint qualifying’ on Saturday, a 100-kilomete, 30-minute race to decide the grid for Sunday’s race.
Hamilton was quickest in Friday qualifying and led Verstappen on the front row of the grid, but the home hero butchered his start, losing the lead to the Dutchman and coming under threat from Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who started third.
But he consolidated second, forcing Bottas to slot in behind him at the first turn, and set about chasing down Verstappen, unsuccessfully trying his luck around the outside of Brooklands and the super-fast Copse.
Hamilton’s car was fractionally quicker, but Verstappen had an advantage through Silverstone’s crucial fast corners. It enabled the Dutchman to build himself a buffer ahead of the key overtaking spots on the track and keep Hamilton at a safe distance.
However, ultimately the battle was neutralised by front-right blistering, reflecting the rapid pace of the battle among the leaders. Hamilton, without the benefit of the clean air of the lead, suffered worst, and in the final laps his challenge faded to ease Verstappen’s way to the flag.
“Around here it’s difficult to pass, but we had a good start and a good fight with Lewis on the first lap, then we tried to do our own pace,” he said. “It sounds a bit funny to then hear you scored a pole position, but anyway, we’ll take it.”
Hamilton was despondent to have failed to convert his first-place start into pole, but the Briton hinted that he could rein Verstappen in on Sunday.
“I gave it everything today,” he said. “I’m sorry [to the fans] I wasn’t able to get the win in sprint one, but tomorrow we fight again.
“It’s not good when you lose from P1. But we’ll try to turn a negative into a positive tomorrow.”
With three points awarded for sprint qualifying victory and two to the runner-up, Verstappen has extended his championship lead to 33 points ahead of the grand prix.
Valtteri Bottas scored the afternoon’s final point with third in the race. The Finns tarted on the soft tyre in the hope he could gain places at the start, but it only left him with tyre management to worry about in the final laps.
Charles Leclerc was slick for Ferrari to finish fourth and stick with the leaders, ending the sprint more than 12 seconds ahead of the midfield.
McLaren was best placed of the midfielders, with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth and sixth after a long battle with the fast-starting Fernando Alonso.
The Alpine driver made up six places on the first lap to head the orange cars for the first half of the race, and he spent the second half holding onto seventh ahead of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.
George Russell finished ninth for his first top-10 finish as a Williams driver, though the Briton’s point-less streak for the English team continues. He is also under post-race investigation for pushing Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz off the track and down to 18th on the first lap.
Sainz recovered strongly but couldn’t break back into the points finishing less than half a second behind 10th placed Esteban Ocon.
Sergio Perez was the race’s only retirement. The Mexican spun off the track at high speed on the fifth lap, and though he could rejoin deep in the midfield, the team withdrew the car one lap from the finish.