SILVERSTONE, England — Formula One championship leader Nico Rosberg claimed pole position for the British Grand Prix on Saturday, capitalizing on a critical error of judgment by his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of a shock-filled and rain-hit qualifying session.
The German secured pole by persevering on his final lap in drying conditions as Hamilton — who had the fastest time up to that point — aborted his lap and pulled into the pits, believing that the his time could not be bettered.
The other drivers who stayed out on track made up large chunks of time in the closing sector of the lap, where the track had dried considerably, and Hamilton was shuffled down to a disappointing sixth place on the grid for his home race.
Defending four-time champion Sebastian Vettel qualified second for Red Bull and McLaren’s Jenson Button a season-best third to give home fans something to cheer.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg qualified in fourth ahead of McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen.
The drama of the last session of qualifying matched that of the opening session, when both Ferraris and both Williams were eliminated, caught out by the rapidly changing track conditions as intermittent showers quickly passed over the Silverstone circuit.
Both teams missed a very brief window of opportunity to post a time when the track was relatively dry.
It was Rosberg’s first pole at Silverstone, his fourth this year, drawing him level with Hamilton, and the eighth of his career, giving him a great chance to beef up his 29-point lead in the drivers’ championship ahead of his teammate.
“That was definitely quite crazy — certainly in first qualifying it was and last qualifying also,” Rosberg said, adding that he and the team were less than confident it was worthwhile going out for that last lap.
“We sat in the garage and eventually came to the conclusion that we might as well go out and have a look. Then it seemed like it was worth it because the last part of the lap was very dry. It was a great team effort.”
Rosberg almost didn’t make it onto that final lap, having passed the start-finish line to commence it less than a second before the cutoff.
A stunned Hamilton was lost for words when asked why he aborted.
“I don’t know, I don’t have much of an answer. I just decided not to do the lap,” Hamilton said.
Mercedes team boss Paddy Lowe confirmed it was a driver decision and not a team order.
“He felt the lap was worse,” said Lowe. “He bailed out, which was unfortunate as a lot of time was found in sector three.”
Hamilton will start from sixth, ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Force India and Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull.
The Toro Rosso pair Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne completed the top ten.