Lewis Hamilton suffered a heavy crash in final practice for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The defending Formula 1 world champion and current championship leader lost control of his Mercedes at high speed before slamming head-on into the barriers.
“I am in the wall, guys,” said Hamilton over the team radio. “Sorry.”
The British star emerged from unscathed, but suffered extensive damage to the front of his battered car.
Mercedes mechanics will now face a race against time to get his car ready for qualifying, which begins at 2pm on Saturday, but the German team said they are hopeful everything will be fixed in time for Hamilton to compete.
A Mercedes spokesman said: “We will be replacing both front corners [suspension and wheel assemblies], nose, barge boards and floor.
“Barring nasty surprises, we can complete all of the work in time.”
The main fear for Mercedes is possible damage to the gear box, as replacing it before the race would incur a five-place gird penalty.
Reacting to Hamilton’s crash, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff added: “Hopefully it’s not the engine or the gear box, and it doesn’t look too bad at the moment.
“I think if I would run around and panic like a headless chicken it wouldn’t be good for the guys fixing the car so we need to be calm.”
In Hamilton’s absence, Ferrari continued their domination of the weekend in Spa-Francorchamps, with Charles Leclerc fastest.
The impressive 23-year-old man from Monaco finished nearly half-a-second clear of his team-mate Sebastian Vettel, while Valtteri Bottas was third for Mercedes, 0.497 seconds off the pace.
Ferrari have a golden opportunity for claim their first race win this year, with their one-two finish to practise making them favourites for pole position.
The 21-year-old lit up the time sheets with a Hungaroring track record, finishing just 0.016 seconds ahead of Bottas with reigning Formula 1 champion Hamilton in third, two tenths back.
Verstappen crossed the line first, his lap greeted with huge cheers from the main grandstand, and despite late improvements by both Bottas and Hamilton, the Mercedes duo were unable to usurp the flying Dutchman.
The Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel line up fourth and fifth with Verstappen’s team-mate Pierre Gasly sixth.
Leclerc hit the wall in Q1 after losing control of his Ferrari at the final corner. But swift repairs by his team allowed the Monegasque to carry on.
“The car has felt good all weekend and it was flying in qualifying,” said Verstappen, moments after capturing pole.
“I am very happy about today. There is still a race to do and that is the most important thing.”
Hamilton, who holds a 63-point lead over Verstappen in the standings, said: “We always target first, but it got away from me.
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“We are in a good position to fight for the win so we will be pushing hard for the victory tomorrow.
“I am always down for a fight. It is a long way down to turn one. It is not easy to overtake but hopefully we can give them a run for their money.”
But, while the 141,000-strong crowd at Silverstone were delighted by his win, Hamilton faced criticism in some quarters following his landmark triumph.
His incredible achievements in the sport have not stopped the online haters, with the Stevenage-born ace often criticised for taking up residence in tax-haven Monaco and accused by some fans of ‘not being British’
But Hill insists Hamilton has flown the flag for Great Britain with pride and has ‘delivered everything he could possibly do’ for his country.
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Speaking to talkSPORT host Jim White, the 1996 F1 world champion said: “It’s difficult to come up with more superlatives; the guy is dominant in his era and he’s had everything thrown at him and he’s delivered on every level.
“It’s very difficult to think what else he can do, apart from of course beat Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles.
“He has become a world recognised sports star and that of course means he’s more international, but he’s an English lad… he’s from Stevenage and he grew up in this country!
“He does try to convince us he is very patriotic and I think sometimes the more he does that the less we are inclined to buy that sort of ‘selling tactic’.
F1 driver standings
After 10 races, Hamilton is way out in front in the championship standings. But who comes behind Hamilton in the top 10?
Lewis Hamilton – 223 points
Valtteri Bottas – 184 points
Max Verstappen – 136 points
Sebastien Vettel – 123 points
Charles Leclerc – 120 points
Pierre Gasly – 55 points
Carlos Sainz – 38 points
Kimi Raikkonen – 25 points
Lando Norris – 22 points
Daniel Ricciardo – 22 points
“But he doesn’t have to worry about it.
“He’s delivered everything he could possibly do for this country – he is the highest-winning British driver and second highest in the history of Formula One.
Asked how he would have fared against Hamilton had they raced in the same era, Hill added: “It would have been very difficult to beat him!
“To beat him, what I found from racing against people like Michael Schumacher is that I could do it, but I couldn’t do it all the time, and Lewis can do it all the time.
“He might have the occasional blip, but it doesn’t happen very often.”
Listen back to talkSPORT’s interview with Damon Hill IN FULL above!
British motorsport legend Damon Hill has urged Formula 1 to listen to Lewis Hamilton, after the world champion called for bosses to make the sport more exciting.
Following his French Grand Prix victory – his sixth win in eight races this season – the Mercedes driver responded to the grumbles from F1 fans about his team’s domination.
The 34-year-old, widely expected to claim his third straight world championship title with the silver arrows, says neither he nor his team are to blame and instead pointed the finger at the sport’s bosses, particularly former chief Bernie Ecclestone.
“Don’t point fingers at the drivers, we don’t write the rules,” said Hamilton, whose team-mate Valtteri Bottas has won the other two races.
“We have nothing to do with money shifting, all that kind of stuff. You should put the pressure on the people at the head, who should be doing the job.
“This is a constant cycle of Formula 1 for years and years and years, even before I got to F1, and it’s because the way Bernie had it set up and the decisions they were making back then. It’s still the same.
“Until that management structure changes, it will continue to be the same, in my opinion. That’s not my job to do that. My job’s to come here and do the best I can as a driver.”
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And, speaking to talkSPORT host Jim White on Tuesday, Hill insisted Formula 1 chiefs should sit up and take note, saying the structure and balance of the sport is wrong.
“I think they should [listen], he speaks from the heart,” said the 1996 F1 champion.
“I think what he’s referring to is not necessarily the current incumbents; I think what he’s saying is that the sport has never really taken on board the beliefs, the knowledge and the desires of the people who compete.
“In football you have the PFA, but in our sport the decisions about how the sport goes and the direction which things are done are predicated on what the teams and manufacturers want.
“F1 is divided into two championships – the Constructors’ Championship and the Drivers’ Championship. This is where the problem arises.
“The Constructors’ Championship has taken over in importance over the years, far more so than the Drivers’ Championship, even though the people who watch Formula 1 are not interested in the Constructors’ Championship!
“What Lewis is saying is the structure is wrong, the balance is wrong.
“What is needed is input from the athletes, the people actually in the arena doing the racing, to have an influence on the show, the event itself. There isn’t enough input.
“Obviously Lewis did another brilliant job at the weekend, he dominated the race, but unfortunately for all of us it was a big yawn.
“I can’t complain, I also drove cars in a dominant era and every driver wants to have a bit of an advantage, but the races I’ve loved and the races people remember are the closely fought races where the cars are evenly matched.
“The thing that attracts young people to go and race is the racing itself. And the racing decisions, the way they try to bring about cars that are satisfying to race and spectacular to watch, both good for the drivers and good for the fans and, those tend to take second place to the other considerations.”
Listen back to talkSPORT’s interview with Damon Hill IN FULL above
Lewis Hamilton is back in charge of the world championship after a superb start fired him to victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Hamilton was handed a rare thrashing by Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in qualifying at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya on Saturday, but the British star returned to his notorious best, winning at a canter.
British teenager Lando Norris crashed with Lance Stroll which saw the introduction of a safety car with 20 laps to run.
But Hamilton remained in complete control, taking the chequered flag ahead of Bottas as Mercedes secured their fifth consecutive one-two.
Hamilton, who also scored a bonus point for the fastest lap, now leads Bottas by seven points in the title race.
Ferrari’s disappointing campaign continued as confusion reigned over their strategy with both drivers losing out to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who finished third.
Sebastian Vettel crossed the line in fourth, with team-mate Charles Leclerc fifth.
Vettel is now 48 points behind Hamilton after just five rounds.
“It was an interesting start and very, very close,” said Hamilton after his third consecutive win in Spain and 76th in all.
“I knew that Valterri would brake super-deep, so it wasn’t a replay of what happened in Baku.”
Reflecting on the opening moments of the race, Bottas said: “It was pretty tight, but I lost it at the start.
“There was strange behaviour with the clutch which I never felt before. I am keen to find out why it was so bad and why it happened.”
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Hamilton, Formula One’s fastest-ever man over one lap, will have been irked by the margin of his defeat to Bottas in the shootout for pole position.
But the Englishman made amends off the start line, drawing alongside Bottas within a matter of metres before making the move stick on the 300-metre charge to the opening bend.
Vettel was quick out of the blocks, too, switching to the outside of the Mercedes pair, with Bottas in a Ferrari-Hamilton sandwich.
Vettel went for glory, but locked up in the braking zone and ran off the track. Verstappen then sailed around the outside of the German at the next corner.
With Hamilton galloping into the distance, the attention turned to Vettel, now on damaged rubber after his ambitious first-corner salvo.
Leclerc was all over the back of his team-mate, but Ferrari waited until lap 11 before giving the order for a wounded Vettel to move aside. Vettel was desperate to stop for new tyres, but his team were determined to keep him out.
After querying the decision on several occasions, he eventually came in on lap 19. Leclerc stopped on lap 26, but curiously was put on the harder tyre. Vettel behind, on the speedier medium compound, was faster than Leclerc.
“What is going on with these tyres?” Leclerc, 21, asked. Despite putting their drivers on different strategies, Ferrari dithered on whether to usher Leclerc aside.
The order eventually arrived on lap 33. By then, both men had lost time duelling for position. Moments later, Vettel stopped for a second time, with Ferrari perhaps hoping Leclerc may be able to make it to the end.
But any advantage he might have had was wiped out when Norris biffed Stroll at the second bend. Stroll ended up in the gravel, and Norris stopped on the track with damage to his McLaren.
The ensuing safety car effectively afforded all the drivers a free stop, leaving Ferrari no option but to bring in Leclerc for a second time. Verstappen benefited to take third in what has been an impressive season for the Red Bull driver.
Valtteri Bottas delivered a statement of intent in the Formula 1 championship by blowing away Lewis Hamilton to secure pole position for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Bottas, who heads Hamilton in the title race by one point, finished a staggering 0.634 seconds clear of his Mercedes team-mate in Barcelona.
It marked Bottas’ third straight pole. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel will start from third place – he finished almost nine tenths down on Bottas.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen managed to split the Ferraris. He lines up in fourth ahead of Charles Leclerc.
Bottas might have considered himself fortunate to hang on to his seat at Mercedes following an underwhelming campaign last year, in which he failed to win a single race.
But the Finn will be delighted with his start to the season, sharing two victories apiece with Hamilton, and securing yet another pole here.
Hamilton has not been at his best this weekend. The world champion made an uncharacteristic mistake on his opening timed lap to finish well behind his team-mate.
“Valtteri has been quick all weekend and I just didn’t put the laps together,” said Hamilton.
“It just wasn’t a good enough job.
“I will be giving it everything tomorrow. We will try to convert this into a one-two finish and if I can reverse it I will be happy.”
Bottas added: “The season has started well and the way I hope for. I feel better and better in the car.”
Vettel had hoped the Barcelona track would be the venue for his championship fightback.
But the German, already 35 points adrift in the title race, could find no answer for the speed of the Mercedes cars.
Indeed, it is looking more and more likely that Bottas could provide the biggest threat to Hamilton’s quest for a sixth world crown.
There were gloomy faces in the Renault garage as Nico Hulkenberg fell at the first hurdle of qualifying. Hulkenberg finished seventh in the championship last year, but his French team are struggling this term.
Daniel Ricciardo, who turned his back on Red Bull to join Renault, did well to get his car into the top 10, but the Australian serves a three-place grid drop after he reversed into Daniil Kvyat at the last race. He will be 13th on the grid.
Ricciardo’s penalty promoted Lando Norris to 10th. The Brit, who is steadily impressing in his maiden season, finished two spots ahead of Carlos Sainz in the sister McLaren.
British rookie George Russell finished 1.2 sec ahead of his Williams team-mate Robert Kubica, out-qualifying the Pole for a fifth time in as many races.
The 21-year-old, however, will be demoted to the back of the field, penalised for taking on a new gearbox after he crashed out of final practice.
ExCeL will be the new home of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship in the UK as part of a multi-year agreement and represents a first return to the capital for the sport since the London ePrix in 2016.
“Every motorsport series would love to host an event in London,” Alejandro Agag, the Formula E founder and chief executive said. “This has been our desire for quite some time now and we’re delighted to have found a new home in the Royal Docks at ExCeL London.
“Formula E coming back to the UK extends beyond pure racing excitement, it’s also a strong message for London to tackle inner-city air pollution by promoting clean technologies and electric sustainable mobility.”
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The world’s first all-electric international single-seater championship began in the grounds of Beijing’s Olympic Park in 2014 and now has nine manufacturers, 11 teams and 22 drivers on the grid with races taking places on city streets around the world.
Mercedes revealed in 2017 their plans to join the series starting from season six, and their car was unveiled at the Geneva International Motor Show earlier this month.
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