Hamilton tops qualifying at Spanish GP for 100th pole

MONTMELÓ, Spain (AP) — Lewis Hamilton reached another Formula One milestone on Saturday when the British driver steered his way to a record-extending 100th pole position.

Hamilton powered his Mercedes to the top time in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix with a flying lap that beat out top rival Max Verstappen by just 0.03 seconds.

That smidgen of a second could translate into a big edge come Sunday. Hamilton will aim to maintain his dominance of the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit and increase the eight-point advantage he has over Verstappen following three races.

“Great job! That was hard work,” Hamilton told his team over the radio after shouting out to celebrate hitting the century mark.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was right behind in third, followed by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Esteban Ocon in his Alpine.

Hamilton said that the 100th gives him the same satisfaction and rush as the first one did back in 2007, when he raced for McLaren. He has won 74 poles since joining Mercedes in 2013.

“The 100 mark, I don’t think anyone, not even me, thought that I would get to that number,” Hamilton said. “But I think about all the people who have helped me, all the men and women in the factories who continually raise the bar.

“It is crazy that it has been 100, but it felt like one of the first, and for me that is special. And we are so close. That is what excites me.”

Verstappen said he had to be pleased by being so close to Hamilton’s Mercedes, but he admitted that starting behind Hamilton will make victory tough.

“We know how hard it is to overtake and follow close here, but I am always optimistic and positive that we can do a good race, and I hope that it is as close as today,” Verstappen said.

A Mercedes has won pole at the 4.6-kilometer (2.9-mile) Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit every year since 2013, including front-row lockouts in each of those years except for 2017. Hamilton has now taken six of those poles.

Hamilton’s milestone increases the distance between his mark and Michael Schumacher’s 68 poles in second place all-time.

It is promising to be a season full of milestones for the 36-year-old Hamilton.

It appears to be just a matter of weeks before Hamilton also hits 100 grand prix victories. On Sunday, he will be aiming for a 98th career victory — on a track where he was won for the past four years. He broke Schumacher’s record of 91 wins last year.

And then he will try for the biggest prize of all: surpassing Schumacher’s record of seven world championships that he equalled last season.

Verstappen, however, also has good memories from the Spanish GP where he got his maiden win at age 18 in 2016.

Red Bull has closed the gap with Mercedes, with Verstappen and Hamilton finished either first or second in all three races this year. Hamilton won the season opener in Bahrain and last week’s race in Portugal. Verstappen won the season’s second race in Italy.

Verstappen’s partner, Sergio Pérez, had the only mishap in an otherwise clean qualifying session. He lost control of his Red Bull and slid backward off the track, smoke belching from the tires.

Pérez managed the eighth-best time, right behind Carlos Sainz in his Ferrari and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo.

McLaren’s other driver, Lando Norris, will start from ninth. Norris is the surprise of the season and is in a distant third place in the standings.

Alpine’s Fernando Alonso will close out the top 10 on the starting grid in the Spaniard’s first home race since 2018.

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