Hamilton began Friday with some last minute homework in the Mercedes factory simulator before heading to Silverstone for the first practice session, where he sounded bemused by his car’s lack of pace, compared with the leading Red Bull.
Verstappen could have been forgiven that he could walk the entire weekend, posting a practice time 0.7sec faster than anybody else.
When it came to the first round of qualifying, Verstappen took the theatrical approach, allowing most other drivers to post times before rolling out onto the Silverstone tarmac, where he was expected to comfortable post the quickest lap.
But it quickly became clear that the capacity crowd would be watching a much closer battle than anticipated, with Verstappen only 0.4sec faster than Hamilton after the first runs.
Hamilton showed who now had the momentum, as he topped the times in Q2, more than 0.7sec faster than his quickest Q1 lap and 0.3sec ahead of second-placed Verstappen. Bottas was a further 0.35sec back.
The crowd cheered as Hamilton displaced the Dutchman from the top of the timing screen, but the biggest roar came moments later when George Russell secured his Q3 place with a lap that put him seventh.
Then came the session that really mattered, with Hamilton apparently nervous as he left the pitlane ahead of Verstappen, radioing in that he didn’t want to give the Red Bulls a tow.
There was drama from the start as Hamilton and Verstappen traded fastest sectors: Hamilton fastest in the first, Verstappen in the second and then a run to the finish line. The cheers left the result in no doubt: Hamilton ahead of Verstappen by 0.15sec — tow or not.
Verstappen complained of understeer on the radio but was still second, ahead of Bottas and Perez.
As the cars returned to the pitlane, Russell took the opportunity of an empty track to set his Q3 run. With a wave of cheers urging him around the circuit, it looked more like a lap of honour but the commitment showed it was nothing of the sort.
The stands erupted as he dipped under 1min 27sec to go seventh.
Russell was cheered around Silverstone as he set the laptime that sees him start eighth in the sprint race
Michael Regan/Getty Images
There would be no second run for Russell, but the rest emerged for one final shootout. Hamilton set a purple fastest first sector, a purple second sector and…..a big snap of oversteer in the final stretch.
It was enough to cancel out the earlier gains and leave him on his earlier time of 1min 26.134sec, as Verstappen charged towards the line.
The championship leader gained — but it wasn’t enough to beat Hamilton, who was awarded the “Speed King” award, rather than pole position which will go to the sprint race winner
Mercedes’ relief was audible. Hamilton’s race engineer Bono has rarely sounded more emotional with his “Get in there” message to Lewis and Hamilton’s response — another “Get in there” was even more highly charged.
Bottas starts behind the title contenders, followed by Charles Leclerc after Sergio Perez had his lap time deleted. He starts fifth.
Lando Norris pipped Daniel Ricciardo to sixth, with positions four to seven all within a tenth of a second. Russell moved down to eighth after the final runs, ahead of Carlos Sainz and Sebastian Vettel.
2021 British Grand Prix qualifying results (ahead of sprint qualifying)