Lewis Hamilton has once again dominated proceedings in qualifying, claiming his sixth pole position in a row for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
The Englishman comfortably beat Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg to top spot as the dominant F1W06 Hybrid secured another front-row lockout. The pair finished comfortably quicker than Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who was third-fastest.
Rosberg had held a comfortable edge over Hamilton in Friday practice until he suffered that frightening high-speed tyre failure midway through the second session. Whether that has played on the German’s mind will never truly be known (and undoubtedly never admitted in public), but the fact remains that it is Hamilton who has held the upper hand ever since.
It was a brilliant middle sector of the lap which ultimately earned Hamilton the prime starting position for the sixth time on the trot – a feat not achieved in a single season since Mika Häkkinen did it in 1999. Half a second faster than his teammate in that sector alone, it simply proved too much for Rosberg to manage.
Mercedes power dominated the day as their engines powered the top five qualifiers in the final reckoning, however, a number of grid penalties will see Sunday’s starting grid look rather different.
Fourth-fastest went to Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, who put in a hugely impressive performance in an E23 Hybrid which had hitherto looked rather unsuited to the Belgian circuit’s high-speed sweeps. Sadly for him, he will incur a five-place grid drop for an unscheduled gearbox change.
Teammate Pastor Maldonado proved that Grosjean’s performance was no flash in the pan by netting the seventh-fastest time.
Grosjean’s penalty will promote Force India’s Sergio Pérez onto the second row of the grid. The Mexican put in an equally noteworthy performance in the updated VJM08 and managed to outpace teammate Nico Hülkenberg in the final reckoning. Hülkenberg narrowly failed to make the top-ten shootout after botching his final flying lap with a lock-up at La Source.
Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo was the fastest non-Mercedes runner with the sixth-fastest time – a result that he will probably be disappointed by, having predicted he could get inside the top-four – but he too could be demoted down the grid should the team decide to swap out his Renault power unit for a new motor.
Felipe Massa was seventh-fastest in the second Williams – four spots behind, but barely 0.15 seconds slower, than teammate Valtteri Bottas.
The works Mercedes’ aside, the top-ten shootout was a relatively closely-fought affair, with the third-to-ninth-fastest drivers covered by just 0.288 seconds.
The slowest of that group of seven was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, whose Hungarian Grand Prix successes will be rapidly fading into a distant memory after a disastrous showing for the Scuderia in its 900th Grand Prix.
The red cars had expected to lock out the second row of the grid behind the two championship-leading Mercedes’, but Vettel couldn’t string a good enough lap together in Q3. It was worse still for teammate Kimi Räikkönen, whose car ground to a halt in Q2 with a reported loss of oil pressure in the gearbox before he’d even set a time.
McLaren Honda’s weekend has continued to be an embarrassment of riches as neither Fernando Alonso nor Jenson Button was able to demonstrate the significant improvement in speed that Honda’s F1 boss Yasuhisa Arai claimed would be delivered with an updated engine specification.
Button managed to outqualify Alonso – who missed the entire final practice session with an exhaust problem – by a healthy 0.4 seconds, but even he was still over a second off the pace of the next slowest driver (Sauber’s Felipe Nasr) in Q1.
Both will start from the back of the grid because of grid penalties stemming from changing many parts of the cars’ power units over the weekend. By Friday it had tallied up to 45 places in all, and before qualifying that penalty had blown out to an academic 105 when Honda elected to fit a second new motor to each car to give itself a larger pool of the upgraded power units for the rest of the season.
Sunday’s 44-lap Belgian Grand Prix gets underway at 14:00 local time. (GMT +2).
|2015 Formula 1 Shell Belgian Grand Prix – Qualifying Results|
|Pos||Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||1:47.197||15|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||1:47.655||+ 0.458||16|
|3.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||1:48.537||+ 1.340||18|
|4.||Romain Grosjean^||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||1:48.561||+ 1.364||16|
|5.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||1:48.599||+ 1.402||15|
|6.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||1:48.639||+ 1.442||16|
|7.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||1:48.685||+ 1.488||14|
|8.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||1:48.754||+ 1.557||16|
|9.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||1:48.825||+ 1.628||16|
|10.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||1:49.771||+ 2.574||11|
|Pos||Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*||Laps|
|11.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08B||1:49.121||+ 1.166||12|
|12.||Daniil Kvyat||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||1:49.228||+ 1.273||11|
|13.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||1:49.586||+ 1.631||12|
|14.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||no time||7|
|15.||Max Verstappen^||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||no time||9|
|Pos||Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**||Laps|
|16.||Felipe Nasr||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||1:49.952||+ 1.044||5|
|17.||Jenson Button^||McLaren Honda MP4-30||1:50.978||+ 2.070||5|
|18.||Fernando Alonso^||McLaren Honda MP4-30||1:51.420||+ 2.512||5|
|19.||Will Stevens||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||1:52.948||+ 4.040||5|
|20.||Roberto Merhi||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03B||1:53.099||+ 4.191||6|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:47.955 posted by Lewis Hamilton
** Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:48.908 posted by Lewis Hamilton
^ Post-qualifying penalties:
- Romain Grosjean – who qualified fourth-fastest – will incur a 5-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
- Max Verstappen – who qualified 15th-fastest – will incur a 10-place grid penalty for an unscheduled Internal Combustion Engine change.
- Jenson Button – who qualified 17th-fastest – will incur a 50–place grid penalty for multiple Power Unit element changes.
- Fernando Alonso – who qualified 18th-fastest – will incur a 55–place grid penalty for multiple Power Unit element changes.
Image via Sutton Motorsport Images