World champion Lewis Hamilton celebrated his 100th pole on Saturday after setting the fastest time in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix and declared “It’s like my first!”. The Mercedes driver’s latest milestone puts him 32 clear of Michael Schumacher in the all-time pole chart and leaves him in prime position to secure a record-extending 98th win in Sunday’s race. “I’ll always remember that one,” a beaming Hamilton said after reaching triple figures. “I can’t believe we are at 100 and it’s down to the men and women back at the factory who are continuously raising the bar. The support I have, it’s a dream to work with these guys. Who would have though at the end of 2012 when we made the decision to partner, we’d be qualifying at 100. I feel humble and grateful – it’s like my first!”
Alongside the 36-year-old Briton on the front row in Barcelona will be his Red Bull title rival Max Verstappen.
Hamilton reached his century 14 years after securing his maiden pole in the Canadian Grand Prix in 2007, which he went on to win to take the first step on the road to becoming Formula One’s most successful driver.
He drew level and overtook Schumacher’s record haul of 91 wins last season and leads the drivers’ standings this season as he goes for an unprecedented eighth world crown.
Verstappen, eight points behind Hamilton in the nip and tuck battle for the drivers’ crown after the first three races, at last has a car up to the job of mounting a serious title challenge.
‘IT’LL BE CLOSE’
The Dutch driver got to within 0.036sec of Hamilton’s fastest lap on Saturday to join him at the head of the Montmelo circuit grid, with Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes and Charles Leclerc for Ferrari on the second row.
Verstappen, who will be making his 100th start for Red Bull on Sunday, said: “We know they (Mercedes) are hard to beat around here. To be that close we can be happy with that.”
Bottas was by no means sticking his neck on the line when he predicted that “I think it’ll be close between us and Red Bull”.
Hamilton has a superb record in Catalonia, winning the race in each of the last four years with five wins altogether.
In the all-time polesetter’s league, Hamilton’s childhood hero, the late Ayrton Senna, is in third place with 65, then comes Sebastian Vettel on 57 with Jim Clark and Alain Prost on 33 apiece.
Vettel must make do with the seventh row in Sunday’s grid after registering the 13th quickest qualifying time.
Up ahead on the third row are Esteban Ocon for Alpine and Leclerc’s Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz, with Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull occupying the fourth row.
A video clip of the press conference Hamilton gave after his first ever pole in Canada surfaced on Twitter after Saturday’s qualifying.
In it a young Hamilton tells reporters: “I’ve never really been a driver that sticks it on pole” — 99 pole positions later, little did he know then just how wildly wrong he could be.