Hamilton arrived for the British Grand Prix without a win in five and was staring down the barrel at a heavy defeat in qualifying after championship rival Max Verstappen demolished him in practice earlier on Friday.
But the seven-time world champion fed off Silverstone’s biggest Friday crowd for a decade to upset the odds and beat his rival by just 0.075 seconds.
Hamilton leapt from his Mercedes machine before slapping his chest and scaling the catch fencing as the euphoric spectators – the biggest UK gathering at a sporting event since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – chanted his name in return.
Hamilton was fastest after the first runs in Q3 and looked set to go even quicker before a ragged conclusion to his lap.
That afforded Verstappen a chance of the spoils, but despite improving he failed to knock the Mercedes man off top spot.
“We have been missing this for a whole year,” said Hamilton. “I have lost my voice. I am so grateful to see everyone here.
“I was hopeful that with the great work we have done within the team, the energy of the fans would get us there, so this one is for them.
“That first lap was great and the second was looking better, but I lost the back end through the final corner and my heart was in my mouth as I crossed the line.
“But I could see the crowd and it was really reminiscent of my first pole here in 2007. I couldn’t have done it without you guys. It is incredibly special to do it on home turf. There is no greater feeling.”
F1 is ushering in the biggest change to its weekend format in the modern era with Saturday’s Sprint – one third distance of a traditional race – to determine the grid for Sunday’s British Grand Prix.
Qualifying took place at 6pm and the revamped schedule saw Hamilton taking the almost unprecedented step of spending Friday morning at Mercedes’ simulator, half-a-dozen miles away from Silverstone.
Hamilton has not won for two months and has seen Verstappen waltz to four wins from five to establish a 32-point cushion. But he heads into the remainder of the weekend, starting with Saturday’s 17-lap dash, in a strong position.
“It was the first time we have ever had a morning free on a Friday so instead of sitting around and wasting time I said let’s get to it,” added Hamilton.
“I was in the sim and using it as a practice session and just putting in the time, trying to give everything and leaving no stone unturned.
“We are squeezing absolutely every ounce of performance from this thing so I am over the moon.”
A win for Hamilton on Saturday will earn him three points and pole position for the main event on Sunday.
But while Hamilton was fastest here, he will not be accredited with a pole on his official record. That will be reserved for the victor of Saturday’s Sprint.
F1 bosses are trialling the new format to spice up the show and bring in new fans. And with almost 90,000 spectators scattered across the 3.67-mile World War Two airfield the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
One of the biggest roars of the evening was reserved for George Russell after he hauled his Williams into Q3. “Come on, boys,” he yelled, with the Briton further enhancing his bid to join Hamilton at Mercedes next term.