Lewis Hamilton equals Michael Schumacher’s record tally of 68 career poles with a commanding performance in qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps.
The Mercedes driver impressively broke through the one minute, 43 seconds barrier for the first time in Q2, and repeated the feat on his first run in Q3, leading Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas by more than three tenths of a second.
Hamilton found even more speed on his second Q3 run, taking pole with a brilliant one minute, 42.553 seconds effort.
Vettel’s Ferrari languished in fourth after the first runs in Q3, but the world championship leader pulled things together on his second run, taking a tow from team-mate Raikkonen in the final sector to beat Bottas to the front row.
Vettel’s one minute, 42.795 seconds lap made him the only driver other than Hamilton to lap below one minute, 43 seconds.
Bottas improved to a one minute, 43.094 seconds best on his own final run, but struggled in the middle sector compared to his team-mate and ended up relegated to the second row.
Raikkonen held a provisional front row spot after the first runs in Q3, despite suffering unexplained vibrations from the rear of his Ferrari throughout qualifying, but “f***** it up” on his final Q3 run so aborted the lap and dropped to fourth.
Max Verstappen was best of the Red Bulls in fifth, almost half a second clear of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, while Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault comfortably beat the Force Indias of Sergio Perez – who complained of a loss of grip in Q3 – and Esteban Ocon to seventh.
Renault’s Jolyon Palmer looked set to qualify best of the rest behind the top three teams after setting the seventh quickest time in Q2, but he broke down at the exit of Stavelot on his out-lap in Q3, after losing gearbox oil pressure, so wound up P10.
Fernando Alonso missed out on the final Q3 spot by 0.084 seconds, despite the efforts of team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne to give Alonso a tow along the Kemmel Straight on Alonso’s final flying lap.
Alonso then aborted the attempt, complaining of “no power” from his Honda engine at the exit of Pouhon over team radio.
Romain Grosjean found more than three tenths on his second Q2 run, but that was only good enough for P12, ahead of Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen – who went slower on his second attempt – and the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz Jr.
Grosjean felt he lost downforce behind Vandoorne’s pitting McLaren in the final sector, without which he felt he might have made the top ten.
Vandoorne was P15, but didn’t set a time in Q2 and will drop to the back of the grid with a 65-place penalty for two illegal engine changes earlier in the weekend.
This was a disastrous Spa weekend for Williams with both cars dropping out in Q1. Felipe Massa fell less than a tenth short of making the cut after a late improvement, knocked out by a better one from Sainz’s Toro Rosso.
Massa ended up P16, but will drop back thanks to a five-place grid penalty for ignoring double waved yellow flags in final practice.
Daniil Kvyat was P17 for Toro Rosso, almost seven tenths adrift of Sainz, complaining he had “no reference” after breaking down with an engine problem in the morning session. Kvyat will take a 20-place grid penalty for requiring an engine, turbo and MGU-H change before qualifying.
Massa’s Williams team-mate Lance Stroll was P18, but didn’t venture out for a second run in Q1 due to a rear wing problem.
Marcus Ericsson won the private battle of the Saubers to avoid being slowest of all in qualifying, beating team-mate Pascal Wehrlein to P19 by 0.465 seconds. Both will take grid penalties for gearbox changes.
So an excellent qualifying performance by Lewis Hamilton. Pole position was important for the Formula 1 title challenger and to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 is remarkable.
Belgian Grand Prix, qualifying results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m42.553s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m42.795s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m43.094s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m43.270s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m43.380s
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m43.863s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m44.982s
8 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m45.244s
9 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m45.369s
10 Jolyon Palmer Renault –
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 1m45.090s
12 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m45.133s
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m45.400s
14 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Renault 1m45.439s
15 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Honda –
16 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m45.823s
17 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Renault 1m46.028s
18 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m46.915s
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m47.214s
20 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber-Ferrari 1m47.679s