Silverstone (United Kingdom) (AFP)
World championship leader Max Verstappen won the first Formula 1 sprint race on Saturday to clinch pole position at the British Grand Prix, but admitted it had been a “strange” experience.
The Red Bull driver finished the 100km around Silverstone ahead of reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton with Valtteri Bottas in second Mercedes in third place.
Verstappen is now 33 points ahead of seven-time champion Hamilton, who hopes for an eighth British Grand Prix triumph on Sunday.
“We were pushing each other a lot because the tires were puncturing a lot,” said Verstappen, who collected three points for his win after beating his rival by 1.4 seconds.
Hamilton took two and Bottas took one.
“When I crossed the line after this race and I was told: ‘Good job, you have pole position’. It was a bit strange, ”added the Dutch star, reflecting on Saturday’s new format.
“What was great is that you start with less fuel so the cars are faster and a little more lively” to complete the 17 laps rather than the 52 that they will have to cover for the “real” race.
Hamilton started the 17-lap sprint at the top of the grid after dominating qualifying on Friday, but was immediately passed by Verstappen.
He admitted he will have to fight for a 99th career victory in front of around 90,000 fans.
– ‘Ecological terms’ –
“It’s good for the fans to have more races,” said Hamilton, who thinks the weekend’s race schedule needs to be revamped.
# photo1 He only wants to see action on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Eliminate one day – 23 days out of the driving season, which obviously would be better in ecological terms,” he said.
In Saturday’s sprint in particular, he added: “It was pretty much the same as the last few races – you had to follow Max. “
Bottas shared Hamilton’s lack of optimism for Sunday.
“We tried to do something different and the objective was to try to get Verstappen in the first round. It didn’t happen, ”said the Finn.
“Today shows that tomorrow will not be easy. If it’s a little warmer then we might see more issues.
The rest of the top 10 was made up of Charles Leclerc on Ferrari in fourth position, Briton Lando Norris on McLaren in fifth position and his teammate Daniel Ricciardo just behind.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso, driving an Alpine, raised his 39 years to reach seventh place on the grid.
He had dropped from 11th to fifth place at one point.
“I liked the sprint format. It’s good to have some action every three days for the fans, ”said Alonso.
Behind him are quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel in the Aston Martin, George Russell of Williams and Esteban Ocon in the second Alpine.
Russell, however, was then demoted three places on the grid for a first-round clash with Sainz.
Unlike Verstappen’s performance, his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez had an afternoon to forget.
The Mexican, who missed the 2020 British Grand Prix after contracting Covid-19, started in fifth place but then left the track midway through.
He will have to start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid.
“I became a passenger very early on. It meant I had lost the car and caused a lot of damage to my race, ”he said.
“I am very sorry for the team. I had a really bad day on my side, but tomorrow is a new day and I’m looking forward to it. “
Saturday’s sprint qualifying race was the first of three scheduled for this year.
Another will follow at the Italian Grand Prix in September, with the third place yet to be confirmed.
© 2021 AFP