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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain races his car at the hairpin turn during the qualifying session, Saturday, June 10, 2017 at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winning pole position at one of his favourite races was a thrill for Lewis Hamilton, but being presented afterward with a helmet once worn by his boyhood idol Ayrton Senna had the defending Canadian Grand Prix champion nearly in tears.

Hamilton's best lap in a blazing, course-record one minute 11.459 seconds on Saturday earned the 65th pole position of his 11-year career, tying him with Senna for second place all-time, three behind Ferrari legend Michael Schumacher.

The Mercedes AMG ace will start on the front row at the Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday alongside his Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel.

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As fans in the packed pit row grandstand stood and cheered after the qualifying session, Hamilton was handed Senna's race-worn yellow helmet as a gift from the Brazilian great's family. Senna was likely the world's best driver when he was killed in a crash at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

"I don't own any of Senna's artifacts," the British driver said. "This is the most special thing I have, above and beyond any of my trophies, so a big thank you. I'm honoured.

"I'd equalled Ayrton in race wins [41] a while ago so this was the focus for me. As a kid, I always thought if I can get to F1 I want to emulate Ayrton, so the fact that I've now reached him in that area, I honestly can't believe it. I remember coming home from school and putting on the videotape of Ayrton, so it's really strange to think that I'm here and I have that many poles."

It was Hamilton's sixth career Canadian Grand Prix pole position, one short of Schumacher's record.

The British driver's five wins at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve included victories from pole position the last two years, but it is a closer battle with Ferrari this year with F1 moving to somewhat bigger, more powerful cars.

Vettel, who leads the championship by 25 points over Hamilton, has won three races and finished second at the other three this season. Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished one-two at Monaco two weeks ago while Hamilton struggled.

"We've been working very hard over the last two weeks to rectify the issues we had with the car," said Hamilton. "The guys did an amazing job.

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"We knew all weekend it would be very close. It did seem the Ferraris had the upper hand."

Vettel had a mishap on turn two on his final fast lap or he may have had a chance to nip Hamilton for the pole.

It will be a major challenge for Hamilton to hold him off in the race.

"It's been close in every race so far," said Vettel, a three-time F1 champion. "Maybe in Monaco they were struggling a bit more in terms of pace but everywhere else, it would be unfair to say one was quicker than the other."

Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas was third-fastest in qualifying and will start from the second row beside Raikkonen. The third row has the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and 2014 Canadian GP winner Daniel Ricciardo.

Williams rookie Lance Stroll had a disappointing outing before a home crowd at his first Canadian GP. The 18-year-old was among the five drivers eliminated in the first 15-minute qualifying session, finishing 17th at 1:14.209 and will start the race second row from the back.

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Stroll, who has finished only two of the first six races, hopes to place in the top 10 and earn his first F1 points.

His veteran teammate Felipe Massa was seventh in qualifying.

While Stroll is the local favourite and Ferrari has its legions of fans, Hamilton has also won many hearts as he piled up wins on the quirky Gilles Villeneuve circuit, with its long straightaways and nasty chicanes.

"I really feel welcome when I come to Canada," said Hamilton. "It's a place I love and I really do love this track."

Earlier this year, Canada Post put out a set of stamps honouring the 50th anniversary of the race. They featured images of Senna, Schumacher, Jackie Stewart, Gilles Villeneuve and Hamilton.

"I've got the stamp, I posted it the other day," he said, before a prod from Vettel at his side made him see the unintended pun. "No, I mean I posted it on Instagram. Good one."

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