Lewis Hamilton claimed a thrilling last-gasp pole position on Saturday to give him the perfect launchpad for his bid to win a record 92nd race in Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix.
In denying his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in the final seconds of qualifying Hamilton moved to within three of his 100th career pole.
The six-time champion, who had trailed the Finn in all three practice sessions and in the two opening parts of qualifying, reeled off a stunning best lap in one minute and 16.652 seconds at the new Algarve International Circuit.
It was enough to outpace the Finn by 0.102 seconds and, as so often this year, to deliver heartbreak again after the pair had swapped from soft to medium tyres for their final runs.
Hamilton had gone out ahead of Bottas for the final session and took advantage by taking two flying laps, the second completed after the chequered flag fell producing his clincher.
Hamilton’s ninth pole of the season sets him up to move clear of Michael Schumacher’s 14-year-old record of 91 which he equalled in the Eifel Grand Prix at Nurburgring last time out.
“I can’t tell you how hard that was today,” said Hamilton.
“Yes, we have a great car, but we have to drive the nuts off of it. I have been digging and digging and digging to find that extra time.
“I did the three laps to get a stab at beating his time and that last lap got better and better.”
Max Verstappen took third for Red Bull ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez of Racing Point with Alex Albon sixth in the second Red Bull and the McLaren pair of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris in seventh and eighth places.
Pierre Gasly was ninth for Alpha Tauri and Daniel Ricciardo 10th for Renault.
A disappointed Bottas, whose efforts produced Mercedes’ ninth front row lockout of the year, said: “I will do all I can, but I would prefer to be on the clean side of the track.”
Verstappen, who pushed the two ‘black arrows’ to the limit, said he had struggled with his tyres.
“iIt was so difficult to get the front and rear to match, but we were close – not too far behind.”