Lewis Hamilton said his fans are still carrying the pain of last season’s championship defeat after Max Verstappen was subjected to a chorus of boos ahead of Sunday’s British Grand Prix.
Hamilton will line up in fifth place at Silverstone, three spots behind Verstappen. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took advantage of the damp conditions to secure his maiden pole in his 150th Formula One appearance.
Nearly seven months have passed since the deeply controversial season-ending round in Abu Dhabi where Hamilton was denied a record eighth world championship. But emotions are still raw for his legion of supporters.
As Verstappen emerged from his Red Bull and stepped forward to conduct his post-qualifying interview – reserved for the top-three drivers – he was subjected to a hostile reception.
Did Hamilton concur with the jeers?
“I think we are better than that and I definitely don’t agree with the booing,” said the British driver. “We should be here pushing everybody and it doesn’t make any difference.
“But I do really appreciate the support I have. Maybe some of them are feeling the pain from last year. Either way, I appreciate it.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff condemned the booing.
“That is unsportsmanlike,” he said. “If you’re not into the other guy, just remain silent. I don’t think any of the drivers deserves booing, whatever happened last year. Being booed is abusive and there is a certain limit which we shouldn’t overstep.”
Verstappen, who heads into the 10th round of the campaign with a 46-point lead in his pursuit of back-to-back championships, has been enemy number one for the Silverstone crowd this weekend.
The jeers also come after Verstappen criticised Nelson Piquet’s racist slur against Hamilton, but added they were “blown out of proportion”.
Verstappen also said that the 69-year-old Brazilian, whose daughter Kelly he is dating, should not be banned from the paddock.
“It was a bit disappointing because I couldn’t really understand [interviewer] Billy [Monger],” said Verstappen of the crowd’s aggressive reaction.
“It was a bit of a problem. But if they want to boo me, they can do that. For me it is not going to change anything.
“I am happy to be here. It is a great track, a great atmosphere in general. Maybe some of them don’t like me. That is fine. They all have their own opinions and I don’t care.”
Hamilton and Verstappen have history at Silverstone. A year ago, Verstappen ended up in a Coventry hospital with concussions after he collided with Hamilton at Copse corner. Hamilton was penalised by the stewards, but won the race.
On Saturday, Verstappen, despite making two mistakes in Q3 – including a full pirouette on the exit of Stowe – looked on course to take pole only for Sainz to beat him by just 0.072 seconds.
But he will start as the favourite to extend his points advantage with his Red Bull expected to be the machine to beat in the dry.
Hamilton, in his revamped Mercedes, might have hoped for more in conditions in which he usually revels. But he will start behind both Ferraris and both Red Bulls. Hamilton’s compatriot Lando Norris qualified sixth for McLaren, with George Russell eighth.
“I don’t know if I can challenge for a win,” said Hamilton. “The Red Bulls are so quick in the dry – they are pulling away on the straights through the high speed.
“They don’t have any bouncing, whereas we do, particularly in the corners. And that is where they are getting away from me at the moment.
“But let’s see. I am hoping our pace is a little bit closer compared to the last race, and if it is, then I can just hold on to them and somehow progress. I will be aggressive tomorrow, don’t worry.”