Lewis Hamilton dominated qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, shattering the lap record at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps to claim the 93rd pole position of his Formula 1 career.
The Mercedes-AMG driver woke to the news of the death of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away at the age of just 43 from colon cancer. He penned an emotional public tribute to the actor who had been such an inspiration to young black people, before delivering a superb qualifying performance that he dedicated in his honour.
Boseman’s death had weighed heavily on Hamilton, who has been a public leader of the Black Lives Matter movement and spearheaded Formula 1’s anti-racism efforts.
“This was an important pole, I woke up today to the saddest news of Chadwick passing away,” he said after finishing over half a second clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas, who gave the Silver Arrows their 71st front-row lockout.
“It’s been such a heavy year for us all and that news broke me, so it wasn’t easy to get back focused. Our superhero died last night, that was weighing heavy on me today. I was so driven to deliver a good performance so I could dedicate it to Chad.”
Hamilton seems to drive at a higher level when his emotions are laid bare and was once again demonstrating the form that has seen him largely dominate the 2020 season. His first flying lap in Q1 was over a second quicker than anyone else had managed to that point, with his W11 allowed for the last time to run its ‘party mode’ higher performance setting before tighter engine mapping regulations are introduced at next weekend’s Italian Grand Prix.
Such was his performance advantage, Hamilton didn’t even feel the need to rely on a slipstream from another driver. He was the first to go out in the final Q3 session and his flying lap was good enough to break the seven-kilometre circuit’s lap record with a 1:41.451 to put him half a second clear of anyone else.
On his second attempt he went even quicker. His car looked like it was glued to the track through its high-speed sweeps and he clocked a 1:41.252 to cement his position at the top of the timesheets.
After a scruffy first flying lap, Bottas improved on his second run but he still wound up 0.511 seconds adrift of his teammate in identical machinery. With Max Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing Honda barely one-hundredth of a second further behind, the yawning gap to Hamilton was all the more evident.
Hamilton’s dominance was in stark contrast to Ferrari, which found itself in dire straits at the same venue where it had dominated just a year before. Given the lack of pace of all Ferrari-powered runners – none of which made it beyond Q2 – the power unit is clearly the weakest in the field on such a power-dependent circuit.
More galling was the analysis published by several broadcasters highlighting that the factory Ferrari team was actually slower at this circuit than it had been in 2019, while every other team had improved on their relative lap times. There is a fundamental flaw in the SF1000 design which the team is seemingly yet to cure and the team was forced to run much lower wing angles to give it better top-end speed at the expense of being able to warm up their tyres.
There was a genuine fear that one or both drivers would be knocked out in Q1 on their lack of pace – a first in dry-weather conditions since the introduction of the current three-part qualifying format. They only narrowly avoided that humiliation, with Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel narrowly scraping into Q2. Neither looked likely to get any further, with the duo qualifying 13th and 14th respectively.
That side story aside, there were some other genuinely impressive performances in qualifying. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo qualified an excellent fourth-fastest – his best result at Spa-Francorchamps in ten attempts – and was quickest of all through the final sector of the lap. Teammate Esteban Ocon was sixth-quickest behind the second Red Bull Racing Honda of a more confidence Alexander Albon.
The McLarens of Carlos Sainz Jr (P7, despite a near-miss with a squirrel running across the circuit) and Lando Norris (P10) sandwiched the Racing Point Mercedes’ of Sergio Pérez and Lance Stroll.
The AlphaTauri Hondas barely missed out on a Q3 berth, with Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly qualifying eleventh- and twelfth-fastest ahead of the two Ferraris, while a jubilant George Russell hustled his Williams Mercedes into Q2 and qualified fifteenth.
His teammate Nicholas Latifi was 19th. Joining him in an early Q1 bath were the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Räikkönen (P16) and Antonio Giovinazzi (P18) and the Haas Ferraris of Romain Grosjean (P17) and Kevin Magnussen (P20). All will be praying that the forecast rain allows them an opportunity to shake things up in tomorrow’s race.
|FORMULA 1 ROLEX BELGIAN GRAND PRIX 2020 – QUALIFYING|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11||1:41.252|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG F1 Team W11||1:41.763||+ 0.511|
|3.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB16||1:41.778||+ 0.526|
|4.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team R.S.20||1:42.061||+ 0.809|
|5.||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing RB16||1:42.264||+ 1.012|
|6.||Esteban Ocon||Renault F1 Team R.S.20||1:42.396||+ 1.144|
|7.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL35||1:42.438||+ 1.186|
|8.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP20||1:42.532||+ 1.280|
|9.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP20||1:42.603||+ 1.351|
|10.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL35||1:42.657||+ 1.405|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|11.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01||1:42.730||+ 0.716|
|12.||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia AlfaTauri AT01||1:42.745||+ 0.731|
|13.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF1000||1:42.996||+ 0.982|
|14.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF1000||1:43.261||+ 1.247|
|15.||George Russell||Williams Racing FW43||1:43.468||+ 1.454|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|16.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C39||1:43.743||+ 1.420|
|17.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-20||1:43.838||+ 1.515|
|18.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C39||1:43.950||+ 1.627|
|19.||Nicholas Latifi||Williams Racing FW43||1:44.138||+ 1.815|
|20.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-20||1:44.314||+ 1.991|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 lap time of 1:42.014 set by Lewis Hamilton
** Denotes gap to fastest Q1 lap time of 1:42.323 set by Lewis Hamilton
Images via Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team and Scuderia Ferrari