Lewis Hamilton was quietly confident after Friday practice despite having failed to hook an up a tidy lap at Spa Francorchamps – but as he has done so often in his glittering career, the reigning world champion delivered when it mattered with an astonishing lap to take pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver looked like he had the speed from the moment qualifying began, the Briton at one with his Silver Arrows, comfortably getting through Q1 and then easing through Q2 on the medium tyre to give him the favoured compound for Sunday’s race.
Then when it came to Q3, he pulled out an epic lap on his first run, and then was even quicker, ending up 0.5s clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas, to secure his sixth pole at Spa and fifth of the season.
Bottas slotted into second to give Mercedes their first front-row lockout in Belgium since 2015, the Finn making his first appearance in the top two, but only just with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finishing just 0.015s adrift in third.
Still, the Dutchman is in a great position for Sunday’s race, given his Red Bull’s team’s supreme race pace and the fact he will start on the more durable medium tyre like the two silver cars ahead of him.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo finally managed to carry his Friday pace through to qualifying as he ended up a brilliant fourth fastest, his best-ever qualifying at Spa on what is his 10th visit, ahead of Red Bull’s Alex Albon who continued his improved form with his most accomplished qualifying performance of the year.
Esteban Ocon made it two Renaults in the top six for the first time since Monza last year, while Carlos Sainz starts seventh – his best Spa qualifying, beating the two Racing Points, who didn’t light up the timesheets as anticipated. McLaren’s Lando Norris completed the top 10.
Ferrari, who was so dominant at Spa last year, was nowhere to be seen in the top 10 shoot-out, the red cars lacking the pace in all three sectors, with Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel 13th and 14th respectively. That was the first time since Silverstone 2014 that a red car took no part in Q3. They have a lot of work to do if they are to salvage anything from this race.
Top five qualifiers
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:41.252
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 1:41.763
3 Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) 1:41.778
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) 1:42.061
5 Alexander Albon (Red Bull Racing) 1:42.264