Lewis Hamilton took a record-breaking fifth career pole at the Belgian Grand Prix following a late rain shower at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Hamilton’s time of a 1 minute 58.179 seconds was seven-tenths faster than Sebastian Vettel, whilst Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez managed to lock-out the second row in a terrific start for the new Racing Point Force India F1 Team entry.
Former provisional pole-sitter, Vettel’s Scuderia Ferrari team-mate, Kimi Räikkönen fell to sixth on the grid due to not having enough fuel to complete another flying lap as the track improved dramatically.
Räikkönen was fastest in Qualifying 1 from Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport duo Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton, even managing to break the ultimate track record, set by the Porsche LMP1 Team‘s 919 Hybrid EVO prototype, in Qualifying 2 with a 1:41.627; before Vettel took the spoils going into Qualifying 3 by lowering the benchmark by a tenth.
That proved to be the end of the dry running as the forecast rain came earlier than expected by ten minutes, with all drivers circulating round on super-soft tyres on their outlaps. Bottas’s miraculously harmless spin at Blanchimont was signal enough for eight drivers to pull in for intermediate running. The two Force Indias decided to gamble on slicks, Pérez almost slamming into the wall at Raidillon seconds later – the result being Ocon and the Mexican aborting their respective attempts.
Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Räikkönen traded times at the top of the timing screens in the early stages of the session, with Hamilton lurking in third, before Vettel established himself on provisional pole by eking towards the 2 minute mark.
With Räikkönen out of fuel and in the garage by the time the chequered flag fell, Hamilton found the form that brought pole at the Hungaroring in slightly wetter conditions three weeks’ ago, bettering Vettel’s time by three seconds. The German came closest with his response, seven-tenths away. But the star was Ocon. But for a poor middle sector, where he lost around three seconds to Hamilton, the Frenchman could have made the front row. Force India’s best qualifying since they took pole for this race nine years ago is fine consolation.
Romain Grosjean took a commendable fifth for the Haas F1 Team, ahead of Räikkönen and the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing pair of Verstappen and Ricciardo. The Austrian team’s low-drag rear wing setup failed to work in the adverse conditions. Kevin Magnussen also got his timings wrong and ended up ninth, three seconds adrift of Grosjean, whilst Bottas did not set a timed lap.
Both Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda‘s missed out on a second consecutive appearance in the final part of qualifying. Pierre Gasly just managed to pip team-mate Brendon Hartley, the New Zealander’s final attempt ruined at La Source by a suspected brake-by-wire failure tipping him into a spin.
Despite showing promising form this morning and in the early stage of qualifying, neither Charles Leclerc or Marcus Ericsson made the top ten. They were the slowest cars that ran in Q2, Nico Hülkenberg opting not to run due to his engine penalties.
His Renault Sport Formula 1 Team colleague, Carlos Sainz Jr., was one of the more surprising eliminations from the first part of the afternoon. Struggling for rear grip, the McLaren F1 Team-bound Spaniard could only muster sixteenth, just ahead of the man he’s replacing – Fernando Alonso.
For the eighth time this season, Sergey Sirotkin out-qualified his team-mate Lance Stroll in the Williams Martini Racing battle as Stoffel Vandoorne recovered from his clash with the wall in Free Practice 3 just to take a provisional twentieth. Both McLaren cars managed to make it into Q2 this time last year.
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