SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton felt the pressure like never before on Saturday and stepped up to the challenge with one of the great qualifying laps of his Formula One career for a record sixth British Grand Prix pole position.
The achievement left the Mercedes driver shaking with emotion.
“I didn’t leave anything on the table today,” he said after beating Ferrari rival and championship leader Sebastian Vettel by 44 thousandths of a second.
That same number 44, Hamilton’s racing number, could be seen around the sunbaked circuit — with the track temperature in the 50s (Celsius) — on T-shirts and banners acclaiming a home hero who has delivered like no other in recent years.
“The lap was... I mean it was just intense,” continued the 33-year-old, who later donned an England shirt to watch them beat Sweden 2-0 and progress to the World Cup semi-finals in Russia.
“With the whole build up, with the whole intensity, with the whole spur-of-the-moment thing, knowing how close we were, for me it feels like one of the best laps that I’ve been able to produce,” he said.
“I would say it felt like the most pressurised lap I’ve ever had. And then afterwards I was just... I was shaking through the emotion, the adrenaline rush was way above the limit that I had experienced before.”
The pole was the 76th of Hamilton’s career, with every one adding to the record he already holds, and fourth in a row at Silverstone.
He was also on pole in 2007 with McLaren and 2013.
The four-times world champion, Britain’s most successful driver of all time, is chasing a record sixth home win on Sunday to become the first driver to win five in a row at the circuit that hosted the first championship race in 1950.
He currently shares the record of five British wins with late compatriot Jim Clark and France’s four-times champion Alain Prost.
It had looked, however, as if Vettel was going to deny him the top slot.
The German was 57 thousandths of a second quicker after their first laps and Hamilton knew he needed to do something special.
“The first lap was pretty good, and then I saw that I’d dropped to second. Obviously, that naturally just adds a little bit more pressure,” he said.
“Because you know that he’s going to improve again, so I’ve got to improve the same and a bit more. To push over the limit just a little bit more, without losing it, is one of the toughest positions to put the car.”
Victory on Sunday will see Hamilton reclaim the overall lead from Vettel, who has a one point advantage after nine races.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge