For the second race in succession, Lewis Hamilton edged out Sebastian Vettel for pole position in the closing seconds of qualifying.
Hamilton’s career has been peppered with moments of inspiration and today saw another as he snatched pole for the Belgian GP from under Vettel’s nose in the closing stages of qualifying, as the rain fell.
It was the 31st pole position of Hamilton’s career and his fourth in a row this season -the first time he has done that in his F1 career. Vettel starts second tomorrow, with Mark Webber third, Nico Rosberg fourth ahead of Paul di Resta and Jenson Button.
“I was so surprised when I came across the line to hear I was P1,” said Hamilton. “I went wide in the first corner and I thought I was down on time from the read-out on my steering wheel. I just kept pushing and did a strong middle sector, then I could see I was catching Sebastian towards the end so it was a great feeling. I hope we can try and fight it out tomorrow, whatever the conditions. The Red Bulls are still ahead of us in terms of performance so results like this feel even more special because I know I’ve got the absolute maximum out of myself and out of the car.”
Hamilton would be the first to admit he had been chasing Vettel a bit when the track was dry, but once the rain came down in the closing stages, Hamilton found another gear, beating the German by two tenths of a second. It was as big a surprise to Hamilton as it was to Vettel and everyone else.
Hamilton dominated the Hungarian Grand Prix from pole position before the summer break and this pole – his fourth in a row this season – gives him a great chance to close the points gap to Vettel in the drivers’ table.
It stands at 48 points currently with a maximum 225 points available before the end of the season. He had not had the easiest weekend up to qualifying with difficulties during the practice sessions with getting the Mercedes balanced and getting the heat evenly into the tyres.
But now he has the track position advantage, he can be hopeful of holding off the Red Bulls down the long straights here, even if they were 10kms faster than him through the speed trap. This is placed at the top of Eau Rouge corner, but the straight that follows is long and the DRS activation zone is a long way down it. Mercedes has paid particular attention to balancing out gearing and drag so as not to get caught out in the race. Paddy Lowe, who moved from McLaren this year, has bitter experience of getting that wrong on Hamilton’s McLaren car last year here.
Mark Webber on his final F1 outing at Spa qualified third ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg, while Paul di Resta almost took pole with an early gamble on intermediate tyres as the rain fell in Q3. He held provisional pole position for several minutes, but the rain suddenly eased in the closing moments of the session and with the track drying quickly in parts, it opened the door for Hamilton, Vettel, Webber and Rosberg to beat him. Jenson Button also excelled in the tricky conditions with sixth for McLaren.
Red Bull’s driver in waiting Daniel Ricciardo had a frustrating afternoon, on the wrong tyre at the wrong time along with his team mate in Q1, as three of the back markers took a gamble on dry tyres on a wet track. Guido van der Garde qualified an impressive 14th, with Jules Bianchi 15th and Max Chilton a career best 16th.
It was a disappointing end to qualifying for the Ferraris and Lotus cars; Romain Grosjean was just 7th, with Kimi Raikkonen 8th and Fernando Alonso 9th. At various stages all three had looked capable of challenging at the front.
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX, Spa Francorchamps, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2m01.012s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 2m01.200s + 0.188s
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 2m01.325s + 0.313s
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 2m02.251s + 1.239s
5. Paul di Resta Force India 2m02.332s + 1.320s
6. Jenson Button McLaren 2m03.075s + 2.063s
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus 2m03.081s + 2.069s
8. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 2m03.390s + 2.378s
9. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 2m03.482s + 2.470s
10. Felipe Massa Ferrari 2m04.059s + 3.047s
11. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m49.088s + 0.792s
12. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m49.103s + 0.807s
13. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m49.304s + 1.008s
14. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m52.036s + 3.740s
15. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m52.563s + 4.267s
16. Max Chilton Marussia 1m52.762s + 4.466s
17. Pastor Maldonado Williams 2m03.072s + 2.882s
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 2m03.300s + 3.110s
19. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 2m03.317s + 3.127s
20. Valtteri Bottas Williams 2m03.432s + 3.242s
21. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 2m04.324s + 4.134s
22. Charles Pic