Lewis Hamilton was in another dimension in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix with a dazzling final lap smashing the Spa-Francorchamps lap record and thumping teammate Valtteri Bottas by over half-a-second to claim his 93rd career pole.
Red Bull had hoped the pace suggested by Max Verstappen in the second free practice would translate into a competitive outing in qualifying around a circuit everyone expected to be dominated by the Silver Arrows.
But despite being one of only three drivers to ease through Q2 on the medium tyre, setting them up for the ideal race strategy tomorrow, Verstappen was unable to topple either Mercedes who locked out the front row for the first time at Spa since 2015.
“I didn’t make any mistakes on all of the laps,” said pole-sitter Hamilton, “but the Q3 run one lap was ace and I was thinking there’s probably no way I’m going to beat that.
“But Turn 1’s probably been a weakness for me for the last few years and I just got stronger and stronger through there. I saw that I was up out of Turn 1 and then I just kept eking away throughout the lap, so that was a very, very good lap, so I’m happy with that.”
Bottas will start a career-high second at the Belgian venue but a scrappy Q3 meant he only marginally edged out Verstappen on his final lap by 0.015s.
A brilliant lap by Daniel Ricciardo meant he was able to split the two Red Bulls in his R.S.20 and will start on the second row. The Australian was the lead driver behind the Mercedes duo after the first Q3 runs, but a late improvement by Verstappen demoted the Renault to the inside of the second row.
Behind, Alex Albon was unable to improve on his final timed lap but still ended up and impressive fifth ahead of Esteban Ocon who excelled for Renault to secure the team’s best qualifying performance since the Italian Grand Prix last year.
Carlos Sainz had an untidy final lap but still ended up above the two Racing Points who failed to demonstrate their promising pace from free practice with Sergio Perez beating out teammate Lance Stroll to finish 8th and 9th, while Lando Norris completed the top ten.
Ferrari only barely squeezed themselves out of an embarrassing double Q1 exit with Charles Leclerc the last driver floating on the fringe of elimination in 15th.
It set the tone for a disastrous Q2 where the Monegasque posted the 13th fastest time with Sebastian Vettel one place behind in 14th. Only the Williams of George Russell who made it to Q2 for the fifth time this season finished behind the Scuderia in their worst team performance since the start of the turbo hybrid era at the 2014 British Grand Prix.
The Belgian Grand Prix often produces one of the most exciting races of the year and gets underway from 1.10 am August 31.