Lewis Hamilton said he was “proud” of the lap that took him to the remarkable stage of 100 pole positions in his Formula 1 career, but it was just one of the emotions swirling in him as he he was celebrating this historical achievement, almost unbelievable.
“I don’t really feel like I can calculate it now,” he said. “It’s a huge number. I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel, but I’m excited it was so close and it was amazing.
“Qualifying is so special. When you meet this line and realize that you are right in front. It’s such a large number, it’s hard to express how crazy and amazing it is. “
Hamilton has always said he’s not the type for stats, but it has clearly hit home. And no wonder. The Mercedes driver sits at the top of almost every F1 statistic list, but in this one his numbers are an order of magnitude bigger than anyone else’s.
As Hamilton digests the meaning of what he did at the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit on May 8, 2021, he might wonder that the next most successful qualifying man in F1 history is Michael Schumacher. He scored 68 poles in his career. Hamilton still has half as much.
In terms of ratio, Hamilton is miles ahead of the German, whose winning record he broke last year and tied all seven world titles and may well surpass by the end of this season. .
Only Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna are ahead of Hamilton in percentage terms, and with the Brazilian – who some still consider the fastest F1 driver ever – Hamilton is practically neck and neck, with a pole at 37% of his races, against 37.9% for Senna.
And then there is the figure itself. In some ways 100 is just a number, but in many others it is not. A century has a resonance, a permanence – an impact. And it was not lost on Hamilton.
“The 100 mark is something that… I don’t think anyone, especially me, thought I would ever get to that number,” he said.
“But when I think about it, I just think of all the people who helped me get there. It’s not just the amazing team that I have here. It’s the incredible men and women in the factories who never cease to amaze me. .
“We don’t see each other all the time, but we are connected. There are these great debriefings that we have.
“This journey that we have taken all these years has been remarkable. He was so nice. It’s crazy that it’s 100, but it was like one of the first. This for me is even more special. There have been so many qualifying sessions. , so many near misses, so many mistakes, so many moments of growth. ”
Was it a trick worth the feat, this writer then asked Hamilton; Was it a comparison to his best, like his jaw-dropping pole lap in Singapore in 2018, or one of the many others competing to be considered for the list?
It certainly looked like this. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had been blazingly quick in the second part of qualifying – 0.7 seconds faster than Hamilton while they were on track at the same time, although Hamilton improved with a second lap later in the race. meeting.
In the decisive top 10 on penalties, Verstappen improved, but Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas took a bigger step, and the Briton was able to beat the Dutchman by just 0.036 seconds.
“It was a great lap,” said Hamilton. “And this is the journey. Sometimes in qualifying you’re quick from the start and you’ve got the right balance, and then it’s just up to you to get the job done.
“(This time) I didn’t really have the right balance (at the start of the session), and I was late. No matter what changes I made (to the car), I was still slightly behind, still slightly behind, not quite there yet.
“I was making these changes and hoping that in the third trimester: ‘That’s all I’ve got, so make the most of it. ”
“I feel like it was a very, very clean and precise lap and I guess that’s how I managed to be right in front of Max. I’m proud of it, that’s for sure. “
At the end of the session, there was a very pleasant and human moment. By happy accident, the post-session talks were conducted by former F1 driver Pedro de la Rosa, who goes way back with Hamilton.
The Spaniard was at Hamilton’s first test for McLaren in the fall of 2006 as the team considered promoting their young rising star in F1, and was immediately blown away by his talent.
The two grew closer over the next three years, when De La Rosa, who lost his seat to Hamilton, was McLaren’s test driver. And on Saturday, the heat between the two men was palpable.
“Hey, Pedro! How are you, man? Hamilton said, obviously delighted to see his former colleague again. “You’re not aging too badly, are you?” And they had a little chat, Hamilton briefly appearing to forget they were dating live.
It reminded this writer of an interview with De la Rosa last year as I was preparing a feature film about Hamilton to mark his seventh title. De la Rosa was talking about how the two were once very close, but inevitably no longer saw each other.
“I’m not in contact with him regularly,” said De la Rosa, “I don’t attend races. But every time I met him in Barcelona, when he tested and I came to say hello to him, he was so nice to me, he was really nice.
“Although I don’t have daily contact with him, when I see him I have the feeling that he’s the same Lewis, and he’s the nice boy I met when I was at McLaren. and that he was just a kid.
“With the people who have been with him in one way or another, fighting, working together, he always has a very authentic approach. “
De La Rosa is also one of the most savvy observers of racing drivers, and he has incredible insight into what makes Hamilton special.
Here he explains one of Hamilton, Canada’s biggest laps in 2008. Hamilton was on pole with over 0.6 seconds, and a remarkable 1.28 seconds faster than teammate Heikki Kovalainen.
“Lewis realized that the track was opening up, that bits of asphalt were breaking in the corners,” De la Rosa said. “So he turned very early and used the banana edges and everything he could find to turn the car.” And he was faster than anyone because he was adapting.
“He immediately found different lines. It’s not just about tire temperature or driving style, it’s about adaptability in general.
“The track opens up, it doesn’t really go slower, it just turns earlier and if there is a banana sidewalk the car will jump, but he won’t have any problem with that as long as it lands on four wheels. So it’s Lewis, man. No matter what you throw at it, it will drive fast. ”
Hamilton team boss Toto Wolff on Saturday summed up events as follows: “Every time I get asked: ‘Was it his best lap or his best race? He is simply operating at this extremely invisible, unheard of level.
“Today the car was probably not perfect and he just beat the others and 100 poles, it’s amazing.
“(Mercedes Ground Engineering Director) Andrew Shovlin was just saying that if you put all his pole laps together in one video, it would take two hours. And it just shows what he’s accomplished. “