Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco steers his car during the third free practice for the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Barcelona Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo, just outside Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, May 8, 2021. The Spanish Grand Prix will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Hamilton tops qualifying at Spanish GP for 100th pole

MONTMELÓ, Spain — Lewis Hamilton won his 100th career pole position after barely edging Max Verstappen to the fastest time in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix on Saturday.

Hamilton pushed his Mercedes to a flying lap of 1 minute, 16.74 seconds. Verstappen in his Red Bull was only 0.03 seconds behind.

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

“I can’t believe we’re at 100. It is really down to the men and women at the factory who are continuously raising the bar,” Hamilton said after getting out of his Silver Arrow. “The journey we have been on has been immense.”

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was right behind in third, followed by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

Hamilton leads the Formula One standings by eight points over Verstappen going into the fourth race of the season.

Hamilton has won the Spanish GP five times, including each of the past four years. On Sunday, he will be looking to equal Michael Schumacher’s six wins in Montmeló.

A Mercedes has won pole at the 4.6-kilometre (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 British driver.

It appears to be just a matter of weeks before Hamilton also hits the century mark in 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.

This season, Verstappen could have been even closer — or perhaps ahead of Hamilton — in the standings if he had not run afoul of track limit violations that cost him points in Bahrain and Portugal.

Hamilton won the season opener in Bahrain and last week’s race in Portugal. Verstappen won the season’s second race in Italy. In all three races, Hamilton and Verstappen have finished either first or second.