Lewis Hamilton equalled F1 legend Michael Schumacher’s record tally of 68 pole positions by recording the fastest ever lap of the current layout of Spa-Francorchamps.
The Mercedes driver took pole with a lap of 1:42.553, some 4.2s quicker than last year’s pole position. That was good enough to beat Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by over two tenths of a second. The German qualified second ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes, admitting that he had been helped by a tow from team-mate Kimi Räikkönen, who had to abort his own final flying lap. The third row went to the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Hamilton set the early pace in Q1 with a time of 1:44.184 to shade Vettel by just under a tenth. Max Verstappen, meanwhile, slotted into third place as FP3’s fastest man, Kimi Räikkönen, returned to the garage reporting handling issues that were confirmed by Ferrari as an anomalous high-frequency vibration.
Behind fourth-placed Räikkönen, Valtteri Bottas was fifth for Mercedes, while Daniel Ricicardo slotted his Red Bull Racing RB13 into sixth place.
The order at the top remained the same until the flag, with Esteban Ocon of Force India, Nico Hulkenberg of Renault, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne completing the top 10.
At the foot of the order the positions were similarly set. With five minutes left on the clock Williams’ Felipe Massa lay in 16th ahead of Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, the second Williams of Lance Stroll and the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein.
It look briefly like Massa might force his way into Q2 as he set a time good enough to push Sainz into the drop zone, but the Spaniard was following on his final hot lap and the Toro Rosso man’s lap of 1:45.374 vaulted him to ninth.
Massa therefore qualified in 16th position, but the Brazilian is set to take a five-place grid drop tomorrow having been penalised for failing to slow for yellow flags in final practice.
At the start of Q2, Räikkönen again reported that he was suffering with vibrations from the car. This time, however, he was told that he would have to make it through the session as best he can.
Hamilton took P1 early on with a time of 1:43.539, with Räikkönen appearing to shrug off his woes by taking P2, 0.161s behind the Mercedes driver. Bottas took third ahead of Vettel and Ricciardo.
In the drop zone as the final runs began were Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg in P11, followed by Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz in P15 and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, who had not set a time with less than five minutes left on the clock.
It was Hulkenberg who made the most significant move, with the Renault driver jumping to ninth in the dying moments of the session. It meant that Fernando Alonso was shunted to P11 and out of the session. Eliminated behind the Spaniard were Grosjean in P12 followed by Magnussen, Sainz and Vandoorne.
At the top Hamilton improved with his final run, posting an impressive lap of 1:42.927 to sit three tenths clear of team-mate Valtteri Bottas at the Q2 flag. Third place went to Räikkönen ahead of Verstappen, Vettel and Ricciardo. Seventh place went to Jolyon Palmer of Renault with the Briton powering into Q3 ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, Hulkenberg and the second Force India of Esteban Ocon.
Hamilton was quickly to the fore again at the start of Q3. Räikkönen took P1 with a time of 1:43.270, but Hamilton immediately usurped him with a lap of 1:42.907. Bottas took P3 ahead of Vettel while Verstappen and Ricciardo slotted into P6 and P7 respectively.
There was trouble, though, for Palmer. The Briton was forced to pull over at Turn 15 with smoke pouring from the back of his Renault. His session ended there.
The Renault driver’s failure served as the break point in the session with those behind him failing to set a time before the final runs loomed.
Hamilton was first out and he immediately stamped his authority with a lap of 1:42.553.
Vettel was the only driver to get close, the German using a tow from team-mate Räikkönen to get to just over two tenths behind the Briton. Räikkonen, though was forced to abort his lap and finished in fourth place behind Bottas.
Verstappen took fifth, almost half a second clear of sixth-placed team-mate Ricciardo. Hulkenberg was qualified seventh ahead of Perez, Ocon and Palmer.
2017 Belgian Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:42.553
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:42.795 0.242
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:43.094 0.541
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:43.270 0.717
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:43.380 0.827
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:43.863 1.310
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:44.982 2.429
8 Sergio Perez Force India 1:44.894 2.341
9 Esteban Ocon Force India 1:45.006 2.453
10 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:44.685 2.132
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:45.090 2.537
12 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:45.133 2.580
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:45.400 2.847
14 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 1:45.374 2.821
15 Lance Stroll Williams 1:46.915 4.362
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:47.214 4.661
17 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 1:47.679 5.126
18 Felipe Massa Williams 1:45.823 3.270