Lewis Hamilton took his 77th career pole position at Spa-Francorchamps, making the most of difficult wet conditions in the final Q3 segment of qualifying to beat Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and surprise third-placed qualifier Esteban Ocon of Racing Point Force India to the front of the grid for the Belgian Grand Prix.
In the early stages of Q1, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen led the way using soft tyres to set a time 1:42.585. He was joined on the yellow-banded rubber by team-mate Vettel, who slotted into P2, and the Mercedes drivers. Red Bull’s Verstappen then briefly split the red and silver cars, however, using supersofts to take P3 ahead of Hamilton.
The championship leader soon moved to second spot, though, with a lap of 1:42.99 and with five minutes remaining Räikkönen sat in P1 ahead of Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen.
In the second Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas, who is set to start at the back of tomorrow’s grid due to engine penalties, was late to the action, only emerging in the final minutes of the session. Using supersoft tyres he jumped to P2 ahead of Hamilton with a lap of 1:42.805. The top five drivers, Räikkönen, Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen then stayed in the garages as the clock counted down.
Bottas’ vault up the order left Sauber’s Marcus Ericssson, the McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, and the Williams cars of Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin in the drop zone.
And it was Ericsson who made the big jump in the final moments, with the Swede putting in a good lap of 1:43.846 to vault to tenth place.
Elsewhere, Carlos Sainz was complaining of a lack of grip and it was the Renault driver who slipped down into the P16 slot vacated by Ericsson. Sainz was thus eliminated ahead of Alonso, Sirotkin, Stroll and Vandoorne.
Raikkonen again set the pace early in Q2, posting a time of 1:41.627 to sit just under two tenths of a second clear of Hamilton, with Vettel a further three tenths of a second back.
Vettel climbed to the top of the order in the final runs, with a lap of 1:41.501, while Raikkonen held on to second place ahead of Hamilton and Bottas. Verstappen went through to Q3 with a lap of 1:42.554 ahead of Racing Point Force India’s Sergio Perez and Haas’ Romain Grosjean, while Daniel Ricciardo was eighth in the second Red Bull ahead of the second Racing Point of Esteban Ocon and the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen.
That meant that out went the Toro Rosso’s of 11th-placed Pierre Gasly and 12th-placed Brendon Hartley, while Sauber’s Charles Leclerc qualified in P13 ahead of Ericsson and Hulkenberg.
The rain that had been threatening for some time eventually began to fall just as the field took to the track for the start of Q3, on slick tyres. The wet weather quickly intensified and by the end of opening laps the conditions were proving treacherous and as a slew of cars spun and rejoined all the drivers headed for the pit lane to move to intermediate tyres.
The Red Bulls of the Verstappen and Ricciardo were first out on track again and Verstappen quickly moved into provisional pole position with a time of 2:02.849, while Ricciardo took P2, two seconds adrift of his team-mate thanks to a mid-lap off.
Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen then moved to P1 with a lap of 2:02.671, while Ricciardo improved to apparently consolidate his hold on P3. Vettel then dropped the Red Bulls to P3 and P4 as he bypassed Raikkonen to take provisional pole with a lap of 2:02.446.
The rain was now easing off, track conditions were rapidly improving and timing would be crucial. Raikkonen, along with the Red Bull drivers missed out on getting in a final lap and they were quickly eclipsed by Racing Point Force India’s Sergio Perez and Haas’ Romain Grosjean who jumped ahead of them.
Hamilton then made the biggest improvement, vaulting to pole position with a lap of 1:58.179. Esteban Ocon also improved in the second Racing Point Force India and the Frenchman scored a career best qualifying result with third behind Hamilton and Vettel. Perez took fourth in the second Racing Point car ahead of Grosjean and Raikkonen, while Verstappen was forced to settle for seventh place, with Ricciardo in eighth position ahead of the second Haas’ of Kevin Magnussen and the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. Bottas, who is set to take an engine-related grid penalty tomorrow didn’t set a time in Q3.
2018 Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:58.179
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:58.905 0.726
3 Esteban Ocon Racing Point Force India 2:01.851 3.672
4 Sergio Perez Racing Point Force India 2:01.894 3.715
5 Romain Grosjean Haas 2:02.122 3.943
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 2:02.671 4.492
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 2:02.769 4.590
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 2:02.939 4.760
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas 2:04.933 6.754
10 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:43.844
11 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1:43.865
12 Charles Leclerc Sauber 1:44.062
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:44.301
14 Carlos Sainz Renault 1:44.489
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:44.917
16 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1:44.998
17 Lance Stroll Williams 1:45.134
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:45.307
19 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
20 Nico Hulkenberg Renault