SILVERSTONE, England (AP) — By only six milliseconds – 0.006 seconds – Lewis Hamilton was left in an unusual position on Saturday: Missing out on pole for the British Grand Prix.
The pause was a lot longer when the Formula One leader was later surprised to be asked why “people question your Britishness” in the post-qualifying news conference.
Look around Silverstone at the flags and banners and there is little doubt who the home crowd of more than 100,000 wants to win on Sunday.
But after being outpaced by Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton will not start from the front of the grid at the British GP for the first time since 2014.
“It wasn’t the best of qualifying sessions,” Hamilton said, “but it is a long race tomorrow.”
It is a race Hamilton is trying to win for a record sixth time, further cementing the racing excellence of Britain’s five-time world champion.
But Hamilton still has to shake off some negativity.
Hamilton was quizzed by a reporter from Britain’s Guardian newspaper on why there is a “contention because people say you live in Monaco and your accent isn’t maybe as British as others because you spend a lot of time in the U.S.”
“I don’t have a good answer for that,” Hamilton replied. “It is crazy because I remember growing up and watching Jenson Button and all the youngsters coming through and everyone migrated to Monaco. Nobody ever said anything about it. But, of course, when I did, they had something to say.
“No matter how often that you go abroad or elsewhere in the world you come back to the U.K., see the countryside, and this great history of Formula One and motorsport and I see all my family who are also here and this feels where my heart is. I am fully British.”
The Silverstone circuit is also bedecked with Hamilton banners and Union Jack flags featuring his name.
“Whilst there will be negative views, I feel every day there is an opportunity to turn those who have a negative view,” Hamilton said. “I guess over time I will do more and more positive things for the country. I go to all these races and I lift the British flag proudly, and there is no one else in this sport that has raised it so high. At the moment it is not enough. I will keep looking for what else I can do.”
Having a 31-point lead in the drivers’ standings shows Hamilton is on the right track.
Escaping the F1 bubble by heading to California last week helped Hamilton.
But Nico Rosberg, who had a four-year rivalry with Hamilton as Mercedes teammates, said such an approach wouldn’t have worked for him.
“Lewis is partying in Los Angeles and is the best driver in the world,” Rosberg said at the central England circuit. “If I had been travelling the way he does, I would be 10th on the grid for Mercedes.”
But the German won the world championship only once, in 2016, before retiring.
“I do have five world titles and they didn’t come on their own,” Hamilton said. “Valtteri parties way more than me. When I started doing the travel and focusing on these other things there was always the issue and comments and the pressure of having to arrive and deliver the same.
“It took time to break that mold and I have done it time and time and time again. My preparation comes first and I have felt fantastic all weekend. The pressure is high being that it is a home grand prix and I don’t look at that lightly. I prepare the best way I can … and that is what led me to five world titles.”
And also victories in six of the nine races this season after shaking off the challenge from Bottas, who won two of the first four events.
Bottas is back on pole for the first time since the fifth grand prix in Spain in May.
Behind the Mercedes duo on the grid on Sunday will be Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who qualified in third, and Max Verstappen of Red Bull.
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