F1 Raceweek: Bottas will take title fight to Hamilton at British Grand Prix
Valtteri Bottas knows he has an opportunity that cannot be wasted at the British Grand Prix.
After claiming pole position by just 0.006 seconds, the narrowest qualifying margin in 176 Formula One races, Bottas starts in front of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton for Sunday's race.
Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, the main protagonists of a thriller in Austria last time out, make up the second row, while Pierre Gasly impressed to take fifth ahead of a disappointing Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton leads the world championship by 31 points and is eyeing a record-breaking sixth victory at his home race, with Mercedes eager to bounce back after Verstappen's famous triumph in Spielberg saw them beaten for the first time this season.
Claiming pole has not been a guarantee of success in 2019, with only three out of nine being converted to race victories. Indeed, Bottas failed to triumph after qualifying first in China and Spain, so now the Finn cannot let another chance slip by.
"For sure the championship fight is still on," said Bottas, who clawed back five points on Hamilton in Austria.
"Obviously I'm the one chasing, I'm behind but [there are] so many races to go and it's going to be up to me and my performance. So definitely every single opportunity there is I need to get those.
"If I don't then Lewis is going to be far away and not able to reached in terms of points, so Sunday is super important.
“I now have to make good use of the pole; Lewis' race pace has been really strong this year, so I'm sure it'll be a good fight tomorrow.”— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) July 13, 2019
More from VB https://t.co/U6aWBOklpj#BritishGPpic.twitter.com/L3FMDuhqsn
"I will do everything I can to keep that lead. The biggest thing for me to work on is the pure race pace - definitely in some conditions. The main thing is to turn those poles into wins.
"I've definitely been working a lot on the starts this year, especially after the couple of not ideal ones. I feel much more comfortable than earlier in the year. Every start is going to be different but I feel more confident and obviously aiming to use the good grid position."
Hamilton was frustrated by his own performance in qualifying, but eager to make up for it in front of his passionate home support.
The five-time world champion said: "You've seen in a lot of the races, qualifying doesn't necessarily always determine what happens. It's a long race on Sunday and we've got a great crowd here so hopefully I can do something different.
"Clearly it's the best grand prix of the whole year and that is really because of the energy the people bring. We have got the best fans here in England."
FERRARI ATTEMPT 'AUDACIOUS' TYRE STRATEGY
Many observers felt Leclerc's strategy cost him in Austria, as Verstappen chased him down with fresher tyres in a dramatic finish. The Monegasque and Vettel will differ from the other leading drivers at Silverstone by starting on softs.
"We did an audacious choice of tyre for the start, softer than our opponents," Leclerc said to Sky Sports.
"We are pretty happy with the choice here. I think in Austria it was not a bad choice and that is not what made us finish second there.
"I will give it everything. The target is to try to use our tyre advantage to gain positions at the first few corners and then try to keep them. If we manage to at the start, it’s a track where it's quite hard to overtake and we might have a chance.
"If we do not it's going to be very difficult to fight with [Mercedes]. But we are very happy with the qualifying performance, very close to Mercedes. We did not expect it and thought we would be struggling more."
Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto explained: "In the first stint we believe we will perform well and the soft tyres will be good.
"This was planned to add in another variable. We are well aware this will be a long race and tyre wear will be a factor for everyone, but our hope is that we have found the right set-up to go well over a long stint."
Verstappen said he "didn't understand" Ferrari's choice, but Red Bull boss Christian Horner was intrigued, adding: "There's the start line advantage on the red tyre, but the durability isn't great - it's different but it will spice things up. It looks like a two-stopper from Ferrari."
RED BULL COULD SPRING A SURPRISE
Bottas discussed the threat Ferrari could pose at the start of the race, particularly with Leclerc on softs, but the two Red Bulls are also in the mix.
Verstappen recovered from three poor practice sessions to qualify fourth, and explained a turbo lag issue had cost him a realistic shot at pole, given he only finished 0.183secs behind Bottas.
"I honestly didn't know what to expect in qualifying," said the Dutchman. "My Friday and also FP3 was not good, but then in qualifying we found stability.
"We made improvements, the car was great and we really found a good set-up. Unfortunately, the whole day I had problems with turbo lag and out of the low speed corners I was losing time.
"Normally we can [tune it out], but somehow we couldn't. The Q3 lap was good, it's just a shame we lost time with the turbo lag otherwise we could have fought for pole.
"When you look at how close we are to pole position then the result is bittersweet. We usually have even better performance in the race and with the good balance we had in qualifying I'm quite confident."
Verstappen has finished in the top five at every race, while his team-mate has had a miserable campaign. However, Gasly finished top in FP1 and has been competitive throughout the weekend, providing hope of a much-needed a turning point.
We made a jump forward today and during qualifying I was happy with the balance of the car. It felt a lot better! Happy to be starting from the 2nd row. We can fight from there #KeepPushing#BritishGPpic.twitter.com/nrqOFiz2So— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) July 13, 2019
1. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
4. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
5. Pierre Gasly (Red Bull)
6. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
7. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)
8. Lando Norris (McLaren)
9. Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso)
10. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)
2018: Sebastian Vettel
2017: Lewis Hamilton
2016: Lewis Hamilton
2015: Lewis Hamilton
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 197
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 166 (-31)
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 126 (-71)
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 123 (-74)
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 105 (-92)
1. Mercedes 363
2. Ferrari 228 (-135)
3. Red Bull 169 (-194)
4. McLaren 52 (-311)
5. Renault 32 (-331)
There were high winds on Friday and a threat of rain during qualifying on Saturday at a circuit that saw its future resolved with a new deal this week.
But Sunday is expected to be a dry race with light cloud and a gentle breeze, although showers may appear earlier in the day.
"There was no proper chance of rain in qualifying but it still had a bit of drizzle, so I think anything can come from the sky, you never know – and no idea what will be best for us," said Bottas. "At least it’s cooler than Austria, so that's always good news."