Lewis Hamilton once again showed his prowess in mixed weather conditions to claim an upset pole position at the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix.
In conditions similar to which he triumphed at the previous German and Hungarian Grands Prix, the Mercedes driver’s unparalleled wet weather skills vanquished the opposition. It was the fifth time the Briton had secured pole position at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, surpassing the record he previously shared with the sport’s true greats in Belgium: Juan Manuel Fangio, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
A predictably unpredictable weather had the last laugh at the 7.004-kilometre Ardennes circuit, arriving and disappearing almost as quickly as the final phase of qualifying began. Hamilton used the changeable grip conditions to his advantage, holding his nerve with a spell-binding lap to beat his championship rival Sebastian Vettel on the stopwatch.
Ferrari has held the upper hand in every session and looked on course to lock out the front row on Saturday afternoon. Its own engine upgrades looked to be enough to keep the Mercedes powered runners – who had their own new-specification power units this weekend – at bay on this power-hungry circuit.
The final qualifying session featured the five teams with the best chassis’ in the field – Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull Racing, Force India and Haas – but even their superior aerodynamics couldn’t deliver the level of grip needed to keep their drivers on the black stuff.
A switch to Intermediate tyres was necessary and as the track continued to be dry it became crucial to be out on the circuit at the end of the session. Ferrari miscalculated for Vettel’s teammate Kimi Räikkönen and failed to sufficiently fuel the Finn’s car, leaving a frustrated four-time winner at Spa sidelined in the final minutes. He was bumped down the order to an eventual sixth on the grid ahead of Red Bull Racing duo Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who were caught short by their RB14’s low-downforce set-up.
Vettel held provisional pole position in the final five minutes of play as Hamilton struggled, going off-track on his penultimate lap. But the reigning World Champion kept his best performance til last and strung together a majestic final lap. His middle and final sectors of the lap were quicker than anybody else, vaulting him to his 78th career pole position a full seven-tenths of a second clear of Vettel.
It was a result similar to last year’s Grand Prix, where Hamilton denied his German rival pole position and held off the quicker Ferrari driver in a race-long duel for victory. If Hamilton can keep his advantage off the start line and into La Source, Vettel’s prospects of narrowing the 24-point deficit to the Mercedes driver in the championship standings will be all the more difficult.
The ‘feel good’ story of qualifying was the second-row lockout claimed by the newly renamed Racing Point Force India team on its first outing since being rescued from administration. Esteban Ocon – whose whereabouts in 2019 are now the main focus of the driver market rumours – did his CV no end of good by qualifying a career-best third-fastest, while teammate Sergio Pérez overcame a wild moment at Eau Rouge to qualify right behind the Frenchman. The Silverstone team has historically performed well at Spa-Francorchamps, but will need more wet weather in Sunday’s race to avoid slipping down the order.
Romain Grosjean and teammate Kevin Magnussen claimed fifth and ninth on the grid for Haas, while Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas did not post a time in Q3 and will start from the back of the grid due to multiple power unit element changes.
Toro Rosso, Sauber and Renault were entrenched firmly in the midfield in qualifying, with Pierre Gasly, Brendon Hartley, Charles Leclerc, Marcus Ericsson, Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr claiming eleventh to sixteenth positions on the timesheets. Like Bottas, Hülkenberg will also be bumped to the back of the grid due to fitting new power unit elements, while his Renault teammate Sainz Jr is likely to go down the same path after a poor qualifying session for the Renault factory team.
McLaren and Williams predictably endured a painful qualifying session with all four drivers easily removed from contention at the end of Q1. Fernando Alonso’s wretched final chapter of his Formula 1 career saw him qualify 17th-fastest as his McLaren struggled for straight-line speed. Teammate Stoffel Vandoorne continued – as was the case only a month ago in Germany – to be slowest in every session this weekend in an embarrassing performance on home soil that will do his prospects of staying on in the sport no end of harm.
|FORMULA 1 2018 JOHNNIE WALKER BELGIAN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING RESULTS|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:58.179|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:58.905||+ 0.726|
|3.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||2:01.851||+ 3.672|
|4.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||2:01.894||+ 3.715|
|5.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||2:02.122||+ 3.943|
|6.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||2:02.671||+ 4.492|
|7.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||2:02.769||+ 4.590|
|8.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||2:02.939||+ 4.760|
|9.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||2:04.933||+ 6.754|
|10.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||no time|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|11.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:43.844||+ 2.343|
|12.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:43.865||+ 2.364|
|13.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:44.062||+ 2.561|
|14.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:44.301||+ 2.800|
|15.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||no time|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|16.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:44.489||+ 1.904|
|17.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:44.917||+ 2.332|
|18.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:44.998||+ 2.413|
|19.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:45.134||+ 2.549|
|20.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:45.307||+ 2.722|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:42.585 posted by Kimi Räikkönen
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:41.501 posted by Sebastian Vettel
- Valtteri Bottas will start from the back of the grid due to multiple replacement power unit elements
- Nico Hülkenberg will start from the back of the grid due to multiple replacement power unit elements
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team