After a long summer break, Formula 1 returns with a positive feeling with Nico Rosberg taking pole position at Spa-Francorchamps while Max Verstappen achieved his best-ever grid slot with second place.
Pole position for Rosberg was expected considering the speed of the Silver Arrows while his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton choosing not to try for pole, on account of a 55-place grid penalty for multiple engine changes, Rosberg looked set to face a relatively unchallenged run to pole.
And yet, Max Verstappen became the challenger for P1. The fight for the top spot was exciting but in the end, second quickest time for Red Bull is still impressive. Verstappen becomes the youngest driver since Ricardo Rodriguez back in 1961 to start from the front row.
As for championship leader Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes driver will run a new power unit but thanks to the penalties applied to changing parts with tokens, he will start the Belgian Grand Prix in last place.
Joining Hamilton will be another champion, in the shape of Fernando Alonso. The McLaren also received penalties due to the power unit. Pure irony that the Honda engine let go even before the start of his qualifying lap…
Kimi Raikkonen was third fastest for Ferrari, almost two tenths clear of team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who lost time to a big oversteer moment at the Bus Stop chicane on his final flying lap. Raikkonen also dropped time at the end of his lap, and felt that cost him a shot at pole.
Daniel Ricciardo was fifth for Red Bull, just over three tenths down on his team-mate Verstappen.
Ricciardo endured a poor first run in Q3, but improved enough on his second to make the top six.
Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg took sixth and seventh places respectively for Force India, while fellow Mercedes customer team Williams suffered software problems with both cars in Q3.
This meant it couldn’t run full qualifying mode on the engines, restricting Valtteri Bottas to eighth and Felipe Massa to tenth.
Massa also locked his brakes heavily at La Source on his single Q3 run, and Jenson Button’s McLaren-Honda was able to squeak ahead of him into ninth position.
Button’s place in Q3 came at the expense of Romain Grosjean’s Haas, which ended up missing the cut by 0.265 seconds.
Renault delivered its best qualifying performance of the season so far with Kevin Magnussen P12 and team-mate Jolyon Palmer P14.
They were split by Esteban Gutierrez, who faces a five-place grid penalty for impeding Pascal Wehrlein’s Manor at Raidillon in final practice.
Wehrlein made it through to Q2 was a solid effort, but wound up last in that segment, after a disappointing run in which he went slower than he did in Q1.
Carlos Sainz was just ahead of him for Toro Rossos, also unable to improve on his Q1 best.
Felipe Nasr failed to escape Q1 in the heavily revised Sauber by just 0.048 seconds and wound up P17, a tenth ahead of Manor debutant Esteban Ocon.
Daniil Kvyat endured yet another Q1 exit for Toro Rosso, ending up P19, fractionally ahead of Marcus Ericsson.
Reigning world champion Hamilton recorded P20, completing a lap within the 107% qualifying rule knowing he will start at the back of the grid.
Fernando Alonso’s McLaren-Honda broke down before he could complete an out-lap in qualifying, so he failed to set a time.
Honda found what it described as a “data anomaly” with Alonso’s engine after the final practice session, but elected to send him out without making an engine change.
Belgian Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m46.744s
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m46.893s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m46.910s
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m47.108s
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m47.216s
6 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m47.407s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m47.543s
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1m47.612s
9 Jenson Button McLaren-Honda 1m48.114s
10 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m48.263s
11 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m48.316s
12 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1m48.485s
13 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m48.888s
14 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m49.038s
15 Pascal Wehrlein Manor-Mercedes 1m49.320s
16 Felipe Nasr Sauber-Ferrari 1m48.949s
17 Esteban Ocon Manor-Mercedes 1m49.050s
18 Esteban Gutierrez Haas-Ferrari 1m48.598s
19 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m49.058s
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m49.071s
21 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m50.033s
22 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda No time