There are days when an athlete is simply untouchable and all you can do is marvel and watch. That was the story for Lewis Hamilton’s rivals on Saturday at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps after the Englishman claimed his 68th career pole position to equal the all-time record of Michael Schumacher.
His final Q3 lap that drew him level with the great German’s feat would have been worthy of the seven-time World Champion himself. Inch-perfect through the seven-kilometre circuit’s sweeps through the Ardennes hills, Hamilton rocketed around with the fastest ever lap recorded here.
The milestone earned personal praise from the very man who oversaw every one of Schumacher’s pole positions, Ross Brawn, who met Hamilton during the post-qualifying TV interviews to pass on congratulations from the Schumacher family. Hamilton wiped away tears – it was fitting given Spa-Francorchamps was the site of Schumacher’s Formula 1 debut in 1991 and his maiden Grand Prix victory a year later.
“To think I have equalled him on poles is very surreal and a humbling experience, knowing Michael is such a legend. It is a very special feat he achieved and I feel very proud to be up there with him,” Hamilton reflected.
“I have always had fond memories of Michael,” he added. “In Abu Dhabi, just before he left, I plucked up the courage to ask him if he would swap helmets with me and he was welcoming and did. That is definitely one of the coolest things I have in my house.”
He was overwhelmed when he stepped out of the cockpit, pausing to pat the Mercedes logo on the nose of his F1W08 to acknowledge that his achievement was in no small part to the incredible V6 turbo hybrid power unit shielded under the car’s silver flanks.
“When I came across the line, it was a moment to reflect on my team who did such a great job to give me the car of my dreams,” he said, recognising the role the team behind him have played. “I plan to continue to propel this car and this team forward and I believe we can get many more poles. The sky is the limit really.”
This was an important result, but he too knows that the prizes are handed out on Sunday. Fourteen points behind championship leader Sebastian Vettel, he will have the German line up alongside him on the starting grid after the Ferrari driver put in his own sublime lap to wring every last tenth out of the SF70.
Vettel sportingly acknowledged a little bit of help from teammate Kimi Räikkönen, who gave him the briefest of slipstreams through Blanchimont to help get him on the front row. Räikkönen – consistently quicker than Vettel all weekend to that point – looked likely to be Hamilton’s closest challenger in qualifying, but suffered repeated rear vibration issues and made a mistake on his last flying lap that dropped him to fourth.
While pole position was essentially Hamilton’s to lose, the Englishman will be wary of the threat from Ferrari on Sunday. The red cars have looked far stronger on longer runs in practice, and both Vettel and Räikkönen are confident of being able to take the fight to Hamilton during the 44-lap race.
Third place on the grid went to Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, leading an all-Finnish second row of the grid.
The grid’s third row will be an all Red Bull Racing affair, with Max Verstappen outqualifying teammate Daniel Ricciardo once again.
Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg came out on top in a tight battle with Force India’s Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon to claim seventh place on the grid, although the Force India squad is showing more evidence that it will have the race pace to come out on top.
Hülkenberg’s teammate Jolyon Palmer should also have been in the mix after the Briton delivered the most convincing performance of his Grand Prix career to-date. Seventh-fastest in Q2, the former GP2 Series champion tragically suffered a gearbox failure at the start of Q3 and could likely take a five-place grid penalty if the team is required to swap the unit out.
Hülkenberg looked set to miss out on a Q3 berth altogether, but was blessed to an extent by McLaren’s Honda engine once again conspiring to frustrate Fernando Alonso. With teammate Stoffel Vandoorne on course to take a 65-place grid penalty, the Woking squad sensibly threw everything at getting Alonso as high up the grid as possible.
Vandoorne would run ahead of the Spaniard through the opening segment of each of his flying laps to punch a hole in the air and maximise every possible km/h of straight line speed the underpowered engine could deliver. Alonso comfortably made it into Q2 with a lap just 1.5 seconds slower than Hamilton’s best of Q1.
The pair worked together again in Q2, but Alonso’s first time put him right on the cusp of being eliminated. He and Vandoorne went out again and got the slipstream perfect before he was released at Les Combes to finish the lap. Desperate to carve as much time as possible, he took Pouhon flat but succeeded in scrambling the Honda power unit’s temperamental electronics and lost power.
The Haas Ferraris of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen qualified better than expected to claim twelfth and thirteenth, while a frustrated Carlos Sainz Jr could not match his practice form and slipped to fourteenth in his Toro Rosso.
For Williams, meanwhile, their nightmare weekend continued as both drivers were eliminated in Q1. Felipe Massa had missed out on running on Friday after crashing heavily in FP1 and then found himself slapped with a five-place grid penalty for failing to slow at all through a double-waved yellow flag zone in his sole practice outing on Saturday.
The Brazilian qualified 16th-fastest, two spots ahead of rookie teammate Lance Stroll, who was over a second off Massa’s pace and only narrowly able to outpace the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein.
Sunday’s 44-lap Belgian Grand Prix will start at 14:00 local time (GMT +2).
|2017 FORMULA 1 PIRELLI BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – FINAL QUALIFYING RESULTS|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Tyre|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||1:42.553|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||1:42.795||+ 0.242|
|3.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||1:43.094||+ 0.541|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||1:43.270||+ 0.717|
|5.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||1:43.380||+ 0.827|
|6.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||1:43.863||+ 1.310|
|7.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||1:44.982||+ 2.429|
|8.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||1:45.244||+ 2.691|
|9.||Esteban Ocon||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||1:45.369||+ 2.816|
|10.||Jolyon Palmer||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||no time|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**||Tyre|
|11.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda MCL32||1:45.090||+ 2.163|
|12.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||1:45.133||+ 2.206|
|13.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||1:45.400||+ 2.473|
|14.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||1:45.439||+ 2.512|
|15.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren-Honda MCL32||no time|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*||Tyre|
|16.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||1:45.823||+ 1.639|
|17.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||1:46.028||+ 1.844|
|18.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||1:46.915||+ 2.731|
|19.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||1:47.214||+ 3.030|
|20.||Pascal Wehrlein||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||1:47.679||+ 3.495|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:44.184 posted by Lewis Hamilton
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:42.927 posted by Lewis Hamilton
- Stoffel Vandoorne (15th) will serve a 5-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change and a 60-place grid penalty for the use of new power unit components above his allocated limit.
- Felipe Massa (16th) will serve a 5-place grid penalty for not slowing sufficient during waved double-yellow flags in FP3.
- Daniil Kvyat (17th) will serve a 20-place grid penalty for the use of new power unit components above his allocated limit.
- Marcus Ericsson (19th) will serve a 5-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
- Pascal Wehrlein (20th) will serve a 5-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team