Lewis Hamilton struck back in his bid for a record-breaking eighth world championship by putting his Mercedes at the front of the grid for Formula One's maiden Sprint race at Silverstone.
Hamilton’s triumph was greeted with a huge roar by the 86,000-strong crowd in Northamptonshire as he edged out championship rival Max Verstappen by 0.075 seconds.
Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas qualified third in the other Mercedes ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
"Cracking job, lads," Hamilton yelled over the radio. "And you, mate," came the reply from his race engineer Peter Bonnington.
Hamilton leapt from his Mercedes cockpit and ran in front of the packed main grandstand slapping his chest.
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.
No other driver has won the British GP on more occasions than Hamilton and the Mercedes star hoped the biggest UK crowd of the pandemic would kickstart his stuttering bid for an unprecedented eighth world crown.
And the reigning champion heads into the remainder of the weekend in a strong position after his opening lap was enough to see off Verstappen at a sun-cooked Silverstone.
A win for Hamilton, 32 points adrift of Verstappen, on Saturday will earn him three points and crucially pole position for the British GP. Indeed, while Hamilton was fastest here, he will not be accredited with a pole on his official record.
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 biggest Friday crowd for a decade – 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 young Brit further enhancing his bid to join Hamilton at Mercedes next term.
Russell qualified a mighty eighth, two spots behind the McLaren of Lando Norris.
More than 100,000 fans are expected for Saturday’s Sprint and a sell-out 140,000 for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
Looking ahead to the inaugural Sprint, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: "There are two extremes. One, is that it is a train and nothing happens and the other extreme is that there is a crash and you are down the grid on Sunday."
Wolff will have been delighted to see Hamilton beat Verstappen following a planned upgrade for the 10th round of the campaign and a track which has suited his team in the past. A Mercedes car has been on pole position for the past nine British Grands Prix
Wolff said: "It is not just one race. This is motor racing and if you start to say there is a gap and we will not be able to catch up them we should not be here at all. We don’t stop fighting."