Lewis Hamilton stormed to a record-equalling F1 career pole position at the Belgian GP to draw level with Michael Schumacher on the all-time table.
Courtesy of pole position number 68 of his career – matching the record held by F1 legend Schumacher – the Mercedes driver will start the race just ahead of title leader Sebastian Vettel on the front row.
The title leader, who has signed a new three-year deal with Ferrari, had been as low as fifth in the timesheets when he started his final flying lap but produced a storming finish to leapfrog Valtteri Bottas, team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and crowd favourite Max Verstappen.
Raikkonen made a mistake on his last lap and then gave Vettel a ‘tow’ to assist the German’s recovery.
But the day belonged to an emotional Hamilton, who appeared close to tears afterwards when F1 boss Ross Brawn relayed a message of congratulations from the Schumacher family.
“It is special,” said Hamilton. “To hear the message that Ross just gave I have to say a big thank you. I think and pray for Michael all the time. I’ve had the privilege of racing with him and always admired him and still to do.
“I’m just honoured to be up there with him now in the poles but he will still be one of the greatest of all time.”
The Mercedes driver has been in sublime form all weekend and topped every segment of Saturday’s qualifying hour.
With an average speed in excess of 150mph, Hamilton’s lap of 1:42.553 was also the fastest ever recorded around the legendary Spa circuit.
But Ferrari are expected to offer a far tougher proposition in race trim having impressed on their long runs during Friday’s practice sessions.
“I got a good feeling in Q1 but I lost that feeling a little bit,” said Vettel. “The last lap the car was more alive. I was a bit lucky with Kimi who had to abort the lap and he gave me a very nice tow which made it a bit more comfortable with Valtteri.”
For the tenth time this season in either qualifying or a race, Sergio Perez finished a place ahead of Force India team-mate Esteban Ocon.
Jolyon Palmer, still to score a point this term, also reached the top ten. But no sooner had the under-pressure Englishman finished celebrating reaching the top-ten shootout for only the second time in 2017 than his Renault gearbox blew, leaving Palmer leaving just tenth in the timesheets but highly likely to face a further penalty.
“It’s such a shame because we were going great guns out there,” bemoaned Palmer. “Both my laps in Q2 would have put me seventh on the grid.
Fernando Alonso suffered engine problems of his own. Despite being given an aerodynamic tow along the Kemmel Straight by team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne – out of contention due to to the imposition of engine penalties amounting to 65 places – the Spaniard failed to reach the top ten and crossed the line shouting “no power” over his McLaren team radio.
With all of the leading seats locked down for 2018, Alonso, yet to make a decision on his F1 future, is rumoured to have been offered a seat by Williams for next season. But the Grove outfit’s struggles are becoming just as pronounced as McLaren’s with both Williams cars falling at the first hurdle for the second qualifying session in a row.
Belgian Qualifying Grid
|1) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes|
|2) Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari|
|3) Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes|
|4) Kimi Raikkonen||Ferrari|
|5) Max Verstappen||Red Bull|
|6) Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|7) Nico Hulkenberg||Renault|
|8) Sergio Perez||Force India|
|9) Esteban Ocon||Force India|
|10) Jolyon Palmer||Renault|
|Knocked out in Q2|
|11) Fernando Alonso||McLaren|
|12) Romain Grosjean||Haas|
|13) Kevin Magnussen||Haas|
|14) Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso|
|15) Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren|
|Knocked out in Q1|
|16) Felipe Massa||Williams|
|17) Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
|18) Lance Stroll||Williams|
|19) Marcus Ericsson||Sauber|
|20) Pascal Wehrlein||Sauber|