SILVERSTONE, England (AP) — It took Carlos Sainz 151 attempts to earn his first pole position in Formula One. Now he’s going after that elusive first win.
But starting alongside Sainz on the front row at Sunday’s British Grand Prix will be defending F1 champion Max Verstappen, a year after the crash with Lewis Hamilton turned their title fight into a bitter rivalry.
Verstappen was booed by some in the crowd after Saturday’s action-packed qualifying session in the rain, saying he could barely hear his on-track interview questions above the jeers.
“If they want to boo, they do. For me, it’s not going to change anything,” she said. “Maybe some of them don’t like it, but it’s okay. Everyone has their own opinions. I don’t mind.”
Sainz set the fastest time at the end of the third qualifying session to beat Verstappen by just 0.072 seconds. It was the seventh pole position in 10 races for Ferrari this season, although Sainz’s teammate Charles Leclerc had taken the first six pole positions before Sainz’s surprise race.
“First pole position, it’s always special, and especially doing it at Silverstone in the wet,” Sainz said. “I kept my cool during the session and towards the end I decided to push.”
Sainz narrowly missed out on what would have been his first career victory two weeks ago at the Canadian Grand Prix, where he finished just behind Verstappen. The Spanish driver has been on the podium 11 times in his career but never on the top step. He has finished second three times this season.
Leclerc will start third, ahead of Sergio Pérez in the second Red Bull.
Sunday’s race is expected to be largely dry after a rainy qualifying session. Improved conditions could favor both Red Bulls after Verstappen set the fastest lap time of all this weekend in the last practice session before he started raining at Silverstone.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton qualified fifth for his home race as Mercedes seemed to have made progress with their high-speed rebound problems. His teammate George Russell was eighth.
When Verstappen spoke on track after qualifying, the boos were audible for the Dutchman and he was barely able to hear the questions put to him during his interview. Hamilton was not satisfied with the reaction of his home crowd towards his rival.
“I think we are better than that. I would say we don’t need to boo, but we have great fans and our sports fans, they feel emotions, ups and downs, but I definitely don’t agree with booing,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know, maybe some of them still feel the pain from last year. Either way, I disagree.”
Verstappen and Hamilton collided in last year’s race, with Verstappen hitting the wall while Hamilton overcame a penalty to win. The incident further escalated their often bitter rivalry in a title race that was ultimately won by Verstappen, and turned some British fans against Verstappen.
He was taken to hospital for observation after the crash and complained that Hamilton showed poor sportsmanship in celebrating victory while Verstappen was undergoing medical evaluation.
Drivers have been addressing negative fan reactions lately, with Russell noting Thursday that he was booed by a random fan in Montreal two weeks ago. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff sided with the drivers with him.
“We shouldn’t see any booing in any sport,” Wolff said. “I think that is unsportsmanlike. It’s clear that we love the support that the drivers and the team have here, that’s fantastic, and the enthusiasm. But if you don’t like the other guys, stay quiet. That would be a good way.
“I think neither driver deserves to be booed, no matter what happened last year, whatever the competition.”
The build-up to this year’s race was dominated by three-time F1 champion Nelson Piquet’s use of a racial slur and homophobic language to describe Hamilton in an interview that was filmed last year after the crash at Silverstone. The interview didn’t get much attention until this week, before the return to the track.
Hamilton and other drivers condemned Piquet. Verstappen, who is dating Piquet’s daughter Kelly, said Piquet had used “very offensive” language, but added that the Brazilian was also “a very nice, laid-back guy” who was not racist.
Leclerc said he felt his Ferrari was “competitive” but a mistake prevented him from challenging for pole position.
“I knew it was the lap where I had to put it all together and I didn’t do it as a driver so I didn’t deserve to be on pole,” he said.
Further back on the grid, there was another surprise in the rain when Nicholas Latifi qualified in a career-best 10th for Williams. The Canadian hasn’t finished a race higher than 14th all season and was driving an older version of the car than teammate Alexander Albon, who was 16th.
“Getting to Q2 was a great achievement and a nice confidence boost, and then Q3 was more than we could have hoped for,” said Latifi, who has been followed by speculation that his Williams seat is in jeopardy.
“We need to be very strategic in how we approach the race. It will be a race of attrition with the way we manage the tyres. Everything is possible. so we will focus on our own career and maximize any opportunity that comes our way.”
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