Pol on pole! Espargaro celebrates after qualifying 'victory' at Silverstone

By Sports Desk August 28, 2021

Pol Espargaro will hope to be celebrating at the end of Sunday's British Grand Prix, yet the Spaniard already feels like a winner after surprising even himself by claiming pole position.

Espargaro had arrived at Silverstone after struggling in the previous two rounds of the MotoGP season in Austria, failing to score any points by recording successive 16th-place finishes.

However, the 30-year-old belied his recent lack of form with a stunning qualifying performance, securing his first pole for Repsol Honda as he squeezed out Francesco Bagnaia by just 0.022 seconds.

Jorge Martin initially appeared to have set a new fastest lap in the closing stages of the final session, only for his time to be wiped out after it was discovered he had cut the Vale chicane. He will instead start from fourth position.

Championship leader Fabio Quartararo will begin from third, but this was a memorable day for Espargaro as he looks to get back scoring points again, having not gone three in a row without collecting something since he was at KTM in 2018.

"Yeah, it's a little bit shocking after how tough Austria was, how we've been able to come back here," Espargaro said in his post-qualifying interview.

"It's difficult to believe, but there are different ways to take these bad moments – in a sad way, or in an angry way. We opted to take the second option.

"I tried to be every day a little bit better. I’ve been working so much, but unluckily the results were not coming.

"Here, everything is coming much easier. Sure, the track, the weather is cold, the extra grip we have in this track gives me the feelings, I have to apply my riding style and maybe to forget a little the problems we have in the pit box with the bike.

"Also, this place has been good to Honda in the past years, so let's enjoy today. Today this pole felt like a victory."

Quartararo admitted the choice of soft tyres had initially caused him some issues on Saturday, though he was happy enough after a switch helped him achieve his target in qualifying.

"Today I've been struggling so much with the soft tyre," the Frenchman, who is the only MotoGP rider to claim points in every race so far this season, told the media. "I was not feeling great on the bike, but with the medium tyre I was immediately feeling better.

"I was struggling so much in acceleration. The main goal was to be on the front row, and we will not touch anymore the soft tyre. I’m happy about my pace – and also the tyres."

Marc Marquez and Aleix Espargaro join Martin on the second row, while Valentino Rossi, who has finished on the podium in four of his five most recent appearances at the British GP, ended up in eighth, sandwiched between Jack Miller and Johann Zarco.

Joan Mir, meanwhile, has work to do from 11th place. The reigning world champion sits level with Bagnaia in second place in the standings on 134 points, 47 adrift of leader Quartararo.

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    Lewis Hamilton is braced for an "intense" Saudi Arabia Grand Prix after claiming pole position for Sunday's showdown as the reigning world champion fights to keep his title defence alive.

    Hamilton will start from the front of the grid in Jeddah, where Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen crashed into the wall on his final flying lap.

    Verstappen went fastest in the first two sectors but hit the barriers on the last corner and had to stop, meaning he will start the main race from third behind Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

    Hamilton has won the past two races to close the gap to Verstappen in the drivers' standings to eight points and evaded a serious punishment for impeding Nikita Mazepin and failing to comply with yellow flags during FP3 earlier on Saturday.

    If the Saudi Arabia GP finished in the order started among the top three – Hamilton-Bottas-Verstappen – it would see seven-time world champion Hamilton regain the lead heading into next week's Abu Dhabi decider.

    "This place is one of the hardest tracks to get right, I was on the limit the whole way round and the car was on a knife-edge," said Hamilton. "Trying to pull out the maximum with the tyres was so tough.

    "It's difficult to understand why - it's so warm here but we were having trouble getting temperature in the front and rears at the same time to have grip at the start of the lap.

    "I'm very proud and thankful that we were able to put it on the front row for tomorrow, it's going to be an intense race. It's always important to have Valtteri beside me, particularly in this part of the year, he's been driving exceptionally well and hopefully tomorrow we can do a good job together."

    Mercedes team principle Toto Wolff added: "What a crazy session! We expected to be stronger today, we have a quick car and it looked like those quick corners would suit us, but like so many times this season, you're constantly surprised.

    "Austin should have been our track and wasn't, and then suddenly in Brazil we were performing really well, so you just never know. It was important today that we kept attacking and attacking, and we've ended up with a front row lockout which is a big advantage for tomorrow.

    "There is a brutal energy running through the whole Team. We just look forward and keep pushing, and pushing, and when you go in the debrief room or in the garage, you don't need to talk because you can feel the energy and how buzzed everyone is."

    Despite the painful ending to qualifying, Red Bull's Dutchman Verstappen remains upbeat.

    "I was on a really good lap until I lost it on the final corner, I thought I had approached it in the same way I had been doing all session, but I lost the rear," he said.

    "I'm upset with myself and it is of course disappointing but there are two races to go and anything can happen. We had a good car in qualifying and everything was coming together which gives me hope going into the race tomorrow, also knowing that the pace was there today.

    "I hope we can follow well tomorrow and if that’s the case, there should be some good opportunities and we should have a good shot."

  • Verstappen feeling 'terrible' after Jeddah crash hands Hamilton pole Verstappen feeling 'terrible' after Jeddah crash hands Hamilton pole

    Max Verstappen felt "terrible" after hitting the wall on his final flying lap in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, handing title rival Lewis Hamilton pole position. 

    Championship leader Verstappen went fastest in the first two sectors but hit the barriers on the last corner and had to stop, meaning he will start Sunday's race from third behind Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas. 

    The Dutchman will hope the crash did not result in any damage to his gearbox, having taken a new one ahead of the grand prix in Jeddah. A replacement would result in a five-place grid penalty that could have huge ramifications on his title challenge. 

    Asked about his crash, Verstappen said: "It's of course terrible. It was a good qualifying. I knew the pace was there and it showed in the last lap. 

    "I don't really understand what happened but I locked up and I still tried to keep the car and finish the lap but clipped the rear and had to stop. 

    "P3 today is a bit disappointing knowing what lap I was on, but it shows the car is quick and let's see what we can do in the race. 

    "I don't know [if the gearbox was damaged]. I immediately stopped so let's see." 

    Hamilton has won the past two races to close the gap to Verstappen in the drivers' standings to eight points and evaded a serious punishment for impeding Nikita Mazepin and failing to comply with yellow flags during FP3 earlier on Saturday. 

    The seven-time defending champion paid tribute to the efforts of Bottas in the build-up to qualifying and expects Verstappen's Red Bull to be a significant factor on Sunday. 

    "We were quick through practice but particularly FP3 and qualifying were just lacking pace, struggling with the tyres, so for us to get a one-two I'm really proud of Valtteri and the men and women in our team who have been working so hard. It's a great result," said Hamilton. 

    "This was the goal. We worked so hard through simulation, set-up. Collaboration has been epic with Valtteri, he's the best team-mate there has even been in this sport, for sure. We've worked together to get the car where it needs to be. 

    "Those guys [Red Bull] were just so fast. That Bull round this track is just something else, but given where we are and what we've managed to pull out I'm happy. 

    "We always get closer in race pace. I anticipate there'll be a close battle on Sunday, but Valtteri and I will be on it." 

    Bottas will have getting the win in the back of his mind but his priority will be helping Mercedes clinch the constructors' championship and Hamilton maximise his title chances. 

    "Of course I want to get a race win, but first things first we need to concentrate on the team championship and Lewis is still fighting for the title, I'm not," said Bottas.

    "I'll do my best with whatever I can and at the same time try to enjoy it." 

  • Verstappen shrugs off Hamilton pressure ahead of final F1 title push Verstappen shrugs off Hamilton pressure ahead of final F1 title push

    Max Verstappen shrugged off pressure as the championship leader insisted it does not matter where he finishes, despite being a win away from claiming the Formula One title.

    Verstappen can clinch the F1 title at Sunday's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – the Dutchman holds an eight-point lead over defending world champion and Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton with two races to go.

    While Verstappen stands on the cusp of glory, Red Bull star Verstappen said his approach would not change.

    Hamilton has stated he is "more relaxed than ever", putting pressure on Verstappen, especially after winning the past two races to narrow the margin.

    "Like I've done the whole season, there's no change in that," Verstappen, 24, told reporters about his approach in Jeddah for the first Grand Prix at the circuit.

    "It's a new track, first of all we need to learn the track and see how that goes in FP1. For the rest, I just focus on the weekend and try to be as competitive as I can be."

    Verstappen continued: "It’s just been of course a great year for us. We had a lot of good moments and it's more enjoyable. Last year was pretty boring for me, because basically all the time I was just in third… to be in this title fight to the end I think is very impressive from our side.

    "And of course, I'll try to keep enjoying the last two races. It doesn't matter where we end up; we've had a really, really good season as a team."

    Verstappen is 12 years younger than Hamilton, who is a seven-time world champion, and admitted that experience plays a part.

    However, Verstappen said he has learned a lot since entering F1 in 2015, finishing third overall in both 2019 and 2020.

    "I think it's natural of course that when you are in this stage of your career you are better prepared than what you were in your first or second, when Lewis was fighting for his first title," Verstappen said.

    "I think it's a natural progression and it's very normal. I also feel much better prepared and more experienced than when I first came into Formula 1.

    "No, I don't think that makes a big difference, because otherwise it would have shown already throughout the season."

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