Belgian Grand Prix – Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton has claimed his 68th career pole position, matching Michael Schumacher’s all time record. He starts ahead of championship rival, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, while Valtteri Bottas claimed P3 in the second Mercedes.
Q1 got started in clear and dry conditions, with Ferrari going into qualifying looking strong after finishing P1 & P2 in the final practice session. However, it was Lewis Hamilton who set the pace early on in the hour, with Hamilton setting a 1:44.1, with Vettel less than a tenth slower. Max Verstappen popped himself into P3 ahead of Kimi Raikkonen but, as normal for Q1, it was the bottom five that really have to worry about their times as they would be eliminated at the end of the first section of qualifying.
With less than five minutes remaining, Haas’ Romain Grosjean, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, Williams’ Lance Stroll, and the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein were the men in the drop zone, but Grosjean improved in the closing minutes to move up to P12, and drop Felipe Massa into the elimination five. The Brazilian did get into the top fifteen with his last laptime, but a further improvement from Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz pushed Massa back down and meant both Williams were knocked out in Q1. Joining them on the sidelines were Daniil Kvyat and the two Saubers.
Q1 finished with Hamilton fastest ahead of Vettel, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Esteban Ocon, Nico Hulkenberg, Sainz & Stoffel Vandoorne.
Lewis Hamilton started Q2 where he left off in Q1, by immediately going fastest. Despite making an error towards the end of the second sector that saw him run wide over the kerbing, he put in a 1:43.5 to go a tenth clear of Kimi Raikkonen. Valtteri Bottas went a further tenth slower in P3, with Max Verstappen putting his Red Bull in P4 ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton’s error meant that Mercedes brought him in to evaluate his tyres and see whether to send him out again on a fresh set, as the tyres used to set the fastest time in Q2 are the tyres the drivers are required to start the race on. Kimi Raikkonen was also not fully happy, complaining about vibrations in his car, but was told that he ‘had to live with it’ until the end of the session. Jolyon Palmer, sitting in P7 with three minutes remaining, then encountered a mechanical problem as he visited the FIA weigh bridge and was unable to get away with an apparent gearbox problem.
The final runs in Q2 saw the Mercedes drivers begin to show their advantage, as Hamilton used a new set of UltraSofts to set a 1:42.927, with Bottas slotting into P2. Raikkonen had to settle for P3, 0.7 down on Hamilton’s time, with Verstappen P4 ahead of Vettel. Daniel Ricciardo finished P6, while Jolyon Palmer in P7 did get through into Q3 despite missing the last few minutes of the session. Sergio Perez was P8 in the leading Force India, Hukenberg P9, and Esteban Ocon P10. Fernando Alonso was eliminated, and clearly furious about it as he stormed away through the back of the McLaren garage after the flag, while Stoffel Vandoorne could only manage P15 in the sister car. Also eliminated were Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen & Carlos Sainz.
Jolyon Palmer brought out the yellow flags at the start of Q3, as his gearbox failed on his outlap, with his car stopping in the final sector. Luckily, the yellow flags were withdrawn before any of the drivers on flying laps encountered that section, meaning that Kimi Raikkonen was unhindered to set a 1:43.2, immediately beaten by Lewis Hamilton with a 1:42.9. Valtteri Bottas went P3 with his lap, a tenth down on Raikkonen, and a tenth up on P4 Sebastian Vettel. Max Verstappen went P5 to stay ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in P6, with no first runs set by the remaining three drivers in the session – Perez, Ocon & Hulkenberg.
The final runs saw Hamilton set a new fastest ever lap of the Spa circuit, clocking a 1:42.5 to increase his advantage, while Bottas underlined Mercedes’ pace by popping into P2. Kimi Raikkonen made an error on his final run, admitting “I f**ked up” over the radio after a strong first sector, but Sebastian Vettel rose to the occasion to rise up to P2 from nowhere. This left the two championship protagonists P1 & P2 as the flag fell, while Valtteri Bottas finished P3 in the second Mercedes. Kimi Raikkonen finished a disappointing P4 after his strong form all weekend, while Max Verstappen & Daniel Ricciardo finished P5 & P6 respectively. Nico Hulkenberg claimed P7 for Renault, ahead of Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon & Jolyon Palmer.