SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) -Red Bull’s Formula One leader Max Verstappen saw off a stunning late challenge from McLaren’s home hero Lando Norris to seize his fifth pole position in a row at the British Grand Prix on Saturday.
McLaren’s Australian rookie Oscar Piastri was third fastest in a further boost for the former champions, coming back with a bang and an upgraded car after a tough start to the season. Charles Leclerc completed the second row for Ferrari.
“It’s always Max. He always ruins everything for everyone,” laughed 23-year-old Norris, his good friend Verstappen alongside and enjoying the joke as the 140,000-strong crowd roared.
Verstappen’s team mate and closest title rival Sergio Perez qualified only 16th, but will move up a place thanks to Valtteri Bottas being disqualified and demoted from 15th to last after Alfa Romeo failed to provide a sample litre of fuel.
It was the fifth race in a row that Perez had failed to reach the top-10 shootout, with the Mexican already a huge 81 points behind Verstappen after nine races and facing another salvage operation on Sunday.
Red Bull have won 10 races in a row, including last season’s finale in Abu Dhabi, and are poised to equal McLaren’s all-time record run of 11 set by late great Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988.
Norris looked like he was about to seize pole when he set a time of one minute 26.961 seconds right at the end on a drying track, only for Verstappen to go quicker with his final effort of 1:26.720.
Verstappen is chasing his sixth win in a row and eighth of the season with a third title already looking an absolute formality.
Five poles in a row was already a career first for the 25-year-old.
“It’s great to see both of them up here,” he said of the McLaren drivers, whose team boss Zak Brown was busy high-fiving everyone in sight.
Brown hoped McLaren could “get a sniff of the podium”.
“I don’t think we can win it on pure pace, so we will have our hands full tomorrow,” added the American.
Verstappen’s afternoon was far from perfect, even if he said it was ‘very lovely’, with the Red Bull driver making an uncharacteristic error when he drove out of the garage and into the pit lane wall at the end of the first phase.
“I just understeered and it didn’t grip,” he said apologetically after being pushed back for a new front wing.
Last year’s winner Carlos Sainz qualified fifth for Ferrari, with the Mercedes pair of George Russell and seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton, winner a record eight times at Silverstone, sixth and seventh respectively.
Hamilton spun into the gravel at Stowe in the opening phase but was able to continue and was second fastest after the opening round of flying laps in the final session while Norris was only 10th.
“We came here with an upgraded front wing and were hopeful it was going to propel us forward but the car was very much the same today,” said Hamilton.
“Even if our race pace is good we have to overtake a bunch of cars which is not easy to do around here.”
Alex Albon qualified a strong eighth for Williams, ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly completing the top 10.
Perez was the big loser of the day, the Mexican very much in the danger zone after Kevin Magnussen’s Haas stopped on track and halted the session with three minutes and 11 seconds remaining.
He was first into the pit lane to await the re-start but that also backfired.
“The red flag lasted a lot longer than we thought, so we ended up waiting for a long time. That was a bit unfortunate,” he said.
“Initially, I couldn’t get enough temperature into the tyre and I’ve been struggling in these conditions with the car lately.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin Editing by Mark Potter, Clare Fallon and Toby Davis)