Lewis Hamilton to lead from the front in Canada
Hamilton claims 65th pole position, equalling Ayrton Senna’s tally
Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in action during the qualification session at the 2017 Canada Formula One Grand Prix. Photograph: Andre Pichette/EPA
Hamilton will start from the very front of a Formula One race for the 65th time in his career after his phenomenal effort left rival Sebastian Vettel in the shade.
The 32-year-old, who would race home from school to watch videos of Senna competing in the distinctive red and white for McLaren, is now only three poles behind Michael Schumacher as the greatest single-lap specialist the sport has ever seen.
But for now, his more immediate focus was on that of emulating Senna, who died a little more than 24 hours after he clinched his 65th and final pole at the fateful San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, aged just 34.
Hamilton was presented with the distinctive yellow and green helmet, worn by Senna at the 1987 British Grand Prix, as a gift on behalf of the Brazilian’s family just moments after he reached the landmark.
The triple world champion held it aloft in front of the thousands of fans, a large number of which greeted his pole lap with a cacophony of cheers, before taking a moment to compose himself.
“I am shaking here,” said Hamilton. “I am speechless. I know for many of you Ayrton was your favourite driver and it was the same for me. He was the one that inspired me to be where I am today.
“To match him and receive this is the greatest honour, so a big, big thank you to the Senna family and everyone here. We can’t always be perfect, but today I was as close as I could get.”
Hamilton, who had just blown away Vettel, the Ferrari driver whom he trails by 25 points in the championship race, by more than three tenths of a second with the quickest lap ever seen at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, cradled Senna’s helmet as he posed with his title rival, to his right, and team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who lines up in third, to his left.
He then arrived for the post-qualifying press conference with a tear on his cheek as he struggled to contend with the enormity of his achievement.
“I don’t actually own or possess anything from Ayrton, so this is the most special thing I have, above and beyond all of my trophies,” Hamilton added. “To be at 65, as he is, I honestly could not be happier.
“As a kid I would get home and think, ‘one day if I am really lucky and I can get to Formula One, I want to emulate Ayrton’. The fact that I have now reached him, I just can’t believe it.
“If today is my last day on earth, the Hamilton name will remain in the sport forever and that is something we can be proud of.”
Montreal has been a happy stomping ground for Hamilton in the past and so it proved again on Saturday. It was this venue 10 years ago where Hamilton secured his first ever grand prix victory, and he will now be odds-on to record his sixth win here after his blistering lap. When he is in this sort of mood, he is unbeatable.
Hamilton laid down the gauntlet with a super-quick opener in the final phase of qualifying before Vettel bit back to move to within just four thousandths of the Briton’s time. But the 32-year-old responded in meteoric fashion to stamp his mark on pole with a mighty lap.