Lewis Hamilton edged out his championship rival Sebastian Vettel to pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix in wet conditions.
Rain that started to fall when drivers were heading back to the pits at the end of Q2 meant Q3 started in slightly damp conditions with everyone on slick tyres.
But with the rain intensifying, and Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas spinning coming through Blanchimont on his outlap, all the drivers except the Racing Point Force India drivers dived straight into the pits.
With Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon having to abandon their subsequent attempts to set a time on slicks, the former after a big moment at Eau Rouge, everyone opted for intermediates.
Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen both had spells at the top before Vettel went fastest with just under three minutes remaining with a lap of two minutes, 02.466 seconds.
While Hamilton lost a lap to an off-track moment on his second flier, Vettel improved his time to a two minutes, 01.188 seconds.
It came down to a battle on their final fliers, with Hamilton posting a one minute, 58.179 seconds to take pole – 0.726 seconds clear of Vettel.
Ocon claimed an impressive third late on with a lap 3.672 seconds off the pace in improving track conditions, with team-mate Sergio Perez completing a second-row lockout for the revitalised team despite an off at the chicane.
Haas driver Romain Grosjean and Raikkonen ended up on the third row, with Verstappen and Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo taking the fourth row.
Kevin Magnussen was the slowest of those to set a time in Q3, ending up ninth place, with Bottas knowing he will start from the back thanks to grid penalties and not returning to the track after his outlap.
Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly was the fastest of those eliminated in Q2 in P11, half a second away from a slot in the top ten.
His final lap was compromised by team-mate Brendon Hartley triggering a yellow flag by spinning in front of him when the rears locked as he hit the brakes for the first hairpin – although he only lost two-tenths of a second compared to his personal best in that sector.
Hartley’s spin meant he did not improve on his second run and ended up P12, and led to him asking the team to investigate what the cause of the rears locking.
Sauber pairing Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson had both been in the top ten in Q1 but ended up P13 and P14 respectively.
Leclerc improved on his second attempt, but was two-tenths slower than Hartley and four-tenths off his Q1 pace.
Ericsson was around a quarter of a second slower, but did not return to the track for a second run.
Nico Hulkenberg, who will start at the back thanks to grid penalties incurred for a change of his whole Renault engine package on Friday – then another turbo change this morning – did not run in Q2 and was classified 15th.
His Renault team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr was 0.088 seconds slower on his second run than the time he had set on his first, meaning he was bumped into P16 and eliminated in Q1.
Sainz complained about a lack of rear grip over the radio after being jumped by Ericsson in the dying seconds of the session.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso also failed to improve on his second run despite a tow on the Kemmel Straight from team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne.
Alonso set personal best times in the first and second sectors, but lost time on the run through the last sector and ended up P17 ahead of Williams duo Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll.
Vandoorne was slowest, 0.390 seconds behind Alonso after not being close enough to his team-mate to get a tow – setting a time 0.367 seconds slower in the first sector.
So congratulations to Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton in achieving pole position at Spa-Francorchamps. That was vital in terms of the championship to score one over Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel.
And yet the stars of qualifying will definitely be Racing Point Force India. To achieve a row two start as a ‘new outfit’ is just remarkable. A positive outcome after going into administration during the Formula 1 summer break. This P3 and P4 is great news to boost moral. Job well done.
Qualifying positions, Belgian Grand Prix:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m58.179s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m58.905s
3 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 2m01.851s
4 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 2m01.894s
5 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 2m02.122s
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 2m02.671s
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 2m02.769s
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 2m02.939s
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 2.04.933s
10 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m43.844
11 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m43.865
12 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.062s
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.301s
14 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m44.489s
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m44.917s
16 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m44.998s
17 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m45.134s
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m45.307s
19 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes –
20 Nico Hulkenberg Renault –