SILVERSTONE, England (AP) — It took 151 attempts for Carlos Sainz to earn his first Formula One pole. Now he'll chase that elusive first win.
But starting alongside Sainz on the front row Sunday at the British Grand Prix will be defending F1 champion Max Verstappen, a year removed from the crash with Lewis Hamilton that 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, and said he could barely hear his on-track interview questions over the jeers.
“If they want to boo, they do that. For me, it's not going to change anything,” he said. “Maybe some of them don’t like me, but that’s fine. They all have their own opinions. I don’t care.”
Sainz set the fastest time late in the third qualifying session to edge Verstappen by just .072 seconds. It was the seventh pole in 10 races for Ferrari this season, though Sainz teammate Charles Leclerc had earned the first six poles prior to Sainz's surprise run.
“First pole position, it's always special, and especially to do it in Silverstone in the wet,” Sainz said. “Kept it cool through the session and toward the end I decided to push.”
Sainz narrowly missed out on what would have been his first career win 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's 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. The improved conditions could favor the two Red Bulls after Verstappen set the fastest lap time of anyone this weekend in the final practice session before the rain began to fall at Silverstone.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton qualified fifth for his home race as Mercedes seemed to have made progress with its problems of bouncing at high speed. His teammate George Russell was eighth.
As Verstappen spoke trackside following qualifying, the boos were audible for the Dutchman and he could barely hear the questions being asked during his interview. Hamilton wasn't pleased with the reaction from his home crowd toward his rival.
“I think we are better than that. I would say we don’t need to do booing, but we have got such great fans and our sporting 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 are still feeling the pain from last year still. Either way, I don’t agree.”
Verstappen and Hamilton collided in last year's race, with Verstappen hitting the wall while Hamilton overcame a penalty to win. The incident further heightened their often-bitter rivalry in a title race ultimately won by Verstappen, and turned some British fans against Verstappen.
He was taken to a hospital for observation following the crash and complained that Hamilton showed poor sportsmanship by celebrating the victory as Verstappen was being medically evaluated.
Drivers have been addressing negative fan reactions of late, with Russell on Thursday noting he was booed by a random fan in Montreal two weeks ago. Mercedes boss Toto Wolff sided with his drivers.
“We shouldn’t be seeing any booing in any sports,” Wolff said. “I think that’s unsportsmanlike. It’s clear that we love the support the drivers have here and the team, that’s fantastic, and the enthusiasm. But if you’re not into the other guys, just remain silent. That would be a good way.
"I think none of the drivers deserve any booing whatever happened last year, whatever the competition is.”
The build-up to this year’s race has been dominated by three-time F1 champion Nelson Piquet’s use of a racial slur and homophobic language to describe Hamilton in an interview which was filmed last year after the crash at Silverstone. The interview did not receive wide attention until this week, ahead of 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 really nice and relaxed guy” who was not a racist.
Leclerc said he felt his Ferrari was “competitive” but a mistake prevented him for challenging for pole position.
“I knew it was the lap where I had to put everything together and I didn’t 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 as Canada's Nicholas Latifi qualified a career-best 10th for Williams. The Montreal-born, Toronto-raised driver has not finished a race higher than 14th all season and was driving an older version of the car than his teammate Alexander Albon, who was 16th.
Montreal's Lance Stroll of Aston Martin was 20th.
“To get through to Q2 was a great achievement and a nice confidence boost, and then Q3 was more than we could’ve hoped for,” said Latifi, who has been followed by speculation his seat at Williams is in danger.
“We need to be very strategic in how we approach the race. It’ll be a race of attrition with how we manage the tires. Anything is possible. so we’ll focus on our own race and maximize any opportunities that may come our way.”
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