|© AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
Lewis Hamilton said all week he was uncomfortable in his car. When it mattered most at Silverstone, though, he delivered a blazing lap to take pole position for the British Grand Prix.
He won his 28th career pole, one less than Juan Manuel Fangio, with a time of 1:29.607 on his final lap, besting Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, who clocked the fastest time of 1:30:059 moments before.
Three-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel was third just ahead of his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber.
"Storming job, Lewis, storming job," the Mercedes team said over the radio as Hamilton crossed the line.
Fans, many waving British flags and holding signs in support of the home drivers, were on their feet cheering in a great homecoming for the 2008 champion who made his name at McLaren but angered many of his supporters by switching to Mercedes this season.
Critics predicted Hamilton would fail and McLaren's Jenson Button would fill his shoes. Instead, Hamilton has outperformed his countryman, earning three podiums compared to none for Button.
"It feels incredible to be on pole, just like it did back in 2007," said Hamilton, who won the race here in 2008 on the way to the overall title.
"My lap in Q3 was a lap for the fans out there around the circuit," Hamilton said. "I haven't been feeling comfortable in the car all weekend, so I was really happy to find a good lap and this feels fantastic. The team has done a phenomenal job and it's a great reward for the guys here at the track but also back at base, especially as our two factories are so close to the track. But we know that tomorrow is another day and our Sunday performance isn't quite as strong right now."
Rosberg, who was fastest in practice and had been strong in recent weeks in winning Monaco and earning pole in Spain, said he relished the competition with former karting rival Hamilton.
"It's a big battle we have. Usually it's close, not today," Rosberg said. "It's a really big push for the team that we are pushing each other all the time. It's fantastic momentum we have at the moment."
Vettel was full of praise for his rivals.
"They are bloody quick in qualifying. They seem to be in a different world on Saturday afternoon," Vettel said. "They manage tyres pretty well which allows them to get a good lap."
The German believes he still has a good chance to win on Sunday -- noting that Mercedes struggles to transform its qualifying success into wins. Rosberg took pole in Bahrain but Vettel won the race.
"It's a long race," Vettel said. "I was very happy with the lap I did at the end, it was very close with Mark also. We did what we could for the team and it's always nice to position well in qualifying, especially around here -- qualifying is good fun and I'm enjoying the high-speed corners. We'll see how we get on with the tyres tomorrow and with looking after them."
With 12 races remaining, Vettel has a 36-point lead over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen is another eight points back in third and Hamilton is fourth.
The surprises of qualifying were Paul di Resta of Force India who finished a career-best fifth and Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo who starts sixth.
But di Resta's joy was short-lived. His car was found by the FIA to be underweight and he was excluded from qualifying. He will start at the back of the grid. Ricciardo moves up to fifth as a result.
The strong showing by Ricciardo could help the Australian in his bid to replace countryman Webber at Red Bull. Webber is leaving F1 at the end of the season. The team said on Friday it will look at Raikkonen, Ricciardo and the other Toro Rosso driver, Jean-Eric Vergne, as a replacement. Vettel came from Toro Rosso, which is also owned by Red Bull.
"Coming off the back of a bad couple of races, I expected to be strong here and I was more motivated than ever," Ricciardo said. "However, if I'd been told I could be sixth this afternoon, I would have been surprised. We were very close to di Resta in fifth, but we can be happy with this position."
Raikkonen will start eighth and Alonso ninth, his worst place on the grid this year.
"We can consider this the worst Saturday of the season so far, having never finished so far down," Alonso said. "But now we must react immediately to try and return to the form we showed at the start of the year. We definitely expected a lot more here, because this is a track that suits our car's characteristics better than others."
Raikkonen also said his team has work to do.
"It's not ideal, but it is what it is," Raikkonen said. "We'll go into the race wanting to get a better result than we did in qualifying. Usually this is what happens for us and hopefully that is the case again tomorrow."
It was also disappointing qualifying for Button, whose McLaren team has all but given up on challenging for the drivers' championship this season. The 2009 champion just missed out on Q3 by 0.05 seconds and will start tenth while Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who crashed in practice on Friday, settled for 11th.