From completely unseen and insane pole laps to completely unexpected ones, here is a rundown of F1’s best-ever pole laps.
6. 2020 Austria – Valtteri Bottas
He might have had to play second man in a team led by the ever-so-dominant Lewis Hamilton. There is no doubt Valtteri Bottas is a great qualifier. That is what made the Finnish driver such a great asset to during his time at Mercedes. His ability to pull out flying laps that would top time sheets gave Lewis Hamilton some competition. This was vital to Mercedes’ successive run over the years.
The best qualifying lap Bottas delivered while at Mercedes was at the first race weekend of 2020. He started out the year with a banging lap of 1:02:939.
Bottas was still able to hold onto his pole position, even though he ended up into the gravel in his final run. Teammate Lewis Hamilton was only 0.012s behind Bottas, despite Valtteri’s big error.
It’s laps like these that are the reason Mercedes are 8-time Constructors’ Champions.
5. 2005 France – Fernando Alonso
The qualifying format might’ve been different, but the quality of this lap still stands out. The way Fernando Alonso mastered the curves of Magny-Cours in this iconic lap is beautiful. Something you’d expect only a future multiple-world champion to do.
At the time, qualifying was done on a single lap with race fuel, refueling was still allowed back then. Alonso’s lap, a 1:14:412, was 0.109 seconds ahead of Jarno Trulli in the Toyota. The gap might have been only a tenth up, but no one was able to claim a faster lap time, despite Alonso setting it early on in the session.
The confidence Alonso had was carried on to the race. The Spaniard quickly established a five-second lead over Trulli. Cruised through the final laps to claim victory, ten seconds clear of Kimi Räikkönen, who finished second.
2005 was without a doubt Fernando Alonso’s season. Various moments of excellence were displayed by the Spaniard, which ultimately earned him his first World Drivers’ Championship. His French GP qualifying lap might have been the most excellent of all the qualifying laps he delivered that year.
4. 2012 Monaco – Michael Schumacher
It is no surprise that one of the greats and legends of the sport is on this list. Schumacher has the second-highest pole positions in F1 at 68. His 68th and final one is for the history books.
In his final season in F1 with Mercedes, Schumacher showed his magic one last time. The German produced a surprising stunner of a pole position at Monte Carlo. Unfortunately, having caused a collision with Bruno Senna in the 2012 Spanish GP. Schumacher was unable to start from pole in the race, as he was handed a five-place grid penalty. That however did not stop him from executing a breathtaking pole lap in qualifying.
Grazing the barriers and making adjustments with one hand whilst steering with the other, you wouldn’t think he was at the end of his career. When you consider the lack of pace in the W03, it made it all the more incredible, and was a true testament to the legend that is Michael Schumacher, when he crossed the line fastest in Monaco with an impressive time of 1:14.301.
Monaco is, after all, very driver-focused, so having Michael Schumacher take the crown on Saturday was special. Even after 19 long years, at the age of 43, he still had magic in him.
3. 2008 Italy – Sebastian Vettel
With a grand total of 57 career poles to his name, his maiden one is one for the history books. In his first full season as a Formula One driver, in his Toro Rosso, Sebastian Vettel secured his first-ever pole position in the pouring rain at Monza.
It wasn’t just the young German’s maiden pole, it was also Toro Rosso’s maiden pole position for their home race at the Italian grand prix. It was unexpected, as the Toro Rosso STR3 was not a car that was capable of pole position, especially not the brilliant qualifying performance that Sebastian Vettel delivered that day.
At the dramatic and wet qualifying, two major competitors in the Drivers’ Championship, Lewis Hamilton of McLaren and Kimi Räikkönen of Ferrari, were outsmarted by the track conditions and couldn’t make it past the second qualifying session. Sebastian, however, had the wits that day and took pole by a remarkable time of 1:35.837.
The German driver set the best time in the final session again with a repeat of his previous flying lap. Felipe Massa looked to be the one to take the glory away from Sebastian, but the second Ferrari driver came only 6th in his final attempt. Hamilton’s teammate Heikki Kovalainen made better progress, but couldn’t match Sebastian Vettel’s time. His time was only good enough for second position just before the checkered flag closed the session.
This exceptional performance allowed for Sebastian Vettel to be named F1’s youngest-ever pole sitter, a record that is yet to be surpassed. And to top it all off, he also won the race on Sunday.
2. 1988 Monaco – Ayrton Senna
Believe it or not, there is actually no footage of this epic qualifying lap, at all. So how do we know it’s epic? Well, the time speaks for itself. This hugely impressive was done at a time of 1:23.998. What Senna was able to find in this lap was much more than anyone else on the field could find. He was ahead of his teammate Alain Prost by 1.427 seconds. Furthermore, he was also faster than third-placed Gerhard Berger by an astonishing 2.687s!
During the final qualifying session, lap after lap, the Brazilian found himself with a laser-sharp focus, and with the speed of lightning igniting him and his McLaren MP4/4. No one could touch him, not even his teammate that was driving the exact same car in the exact same conditions.
Senna described his pole position lap as him operating on an entirely different plane altogether, and said that it was his greatest qualifying lap ever. In his own words;
“And I suddenly realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was kind of driving it by instinct, only I was in a different dimension. I was way over the limit but still able to find even more. Then, suddenly, something just kicked me. I kind of woke up and I realised that I was in a different atmosphere than you normally are.”
The lap was nothing short of perfection, a level only very few athletes get to experience.
1. 2018 Singapore – Lewis Hamilton
Top of the list is none other than the man with the most pole positions acquired in all of Formula One history. Lewis Hamilton has a record number of 103 F1 pole positions throughout his career, so far.
Ferrari were favorites for Saturday’s qualifying at a track that didn’t quite suit the Mercedes, but Lewis Hamilton went on to contradict that during his absolutely phenomenal pole lap.
Hamilton’s pole lap in Singapore that season is widely regarded as one of the greatest ever among the F1 community. What made it all the more astonishing, is that prior to Q3, Mercedes were still very much clearly behind the pace. Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull was quickest in the first qualifying session and Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen was ahead in Q2, Hamilton was nearly knocked out.
Against all odds, though, the Brit dug deep and produced a flawless lap that spoke of the genius that is Sir Lewis Hamilton. He went around the 5.063 km track in a time of 1:36:015, a time that is over three seconds up on Sebastian Vettel’s pole time from the previous year, 2017. The lap was so incredible, so history-defining, that Hamilton said it “felt like magic”, while Mercedes boss Toto Wolff called it “stardust” and the best lap he had ever seen.
It was a lap like no other.