Lewis Hamilton drove two consecutive record qualifying laps to achieve his sixth pole position at the Belgian Grand Prix and a record 93rd of his career with a flawless display of speed on Saturday.
The championship leader and six-time champion drove a best lap in one minute and 41.252 seconds in the final seconds of a session he dominated in a personal tribute to Hollywood film actor Chadwick Boseman, who died on Friday.
And while Daniel Ricciardo finished a ‘fantastic’ fourth place – his same best qualifying result in a Renault – it was a nightmare day for Ferrari, who only managed to finish 13th and 14th in an embarrassing new low of the season.
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Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas finished second to complete another front row with black arrows on the grid, but he was more than half a second behind Hamilton’s pace.
It was Hamilton’s fifth pole in seven races that year, an achievement he wanted to achieve in memory of Boseman, whose life had been an inspiration to Hamilton.
“Today was a very, very clean session for me and the end of the lap got better and better. We have done so much work in the background for that.
“This is a really important bar to me because I woke up to the saddest news of Chadwick’s death. It was such a difficult year for all of us that it shook me.
“I wanted to go out and drive to perfection because he did for our people and showed young children what is possible.”
Max Verstappen, who is 37 points behind Hamilton in the drivers’ title race, finished third for Red Bull, ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who had abandoned his last lap, and Alex Albon in the second Red Bull.
Esteban Ocon finished sixth in the second Renault ahead of Carlos Sainz from McLaren, the two racing points of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, and Lando Norris in the second McLaren.
After winning last year’s race, Charles Leclerc and his four-time Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel retired in the second quarter and will start the race from 13th and 14th on Sunday.
RICCIARDO HAILS ‘FANTASTIC RESULT’
A low downforce package helped the team’s straight-line speed, and although Ricciardo had to abandon his final lap, he was beaming after qualifying.
“Of course it would have been perfect to keep third place, but I’m very happy with qualifying. I was happy all weekend,” he told Sky F1.
“Last year these low downforce tracks were our strongest – Spa, Monza – and we’ve repeated that this year.
“When it rains, it rains, but I hope for a dry one as we have a good position on the track and pretty good speed on the straight.
“We have a real chance at the start of the race and then I think I can defend for a while if I have to. That’s the plan: try to get a little better at the start and bend over! “
“There was a lot going on in that session, I’m still trying to come down a bit, but it’s a great result.”
While the prospect of both cars getting out in the first quarter loomed, they managed to escape through the skin of their teeth to make it into the second quarter, and they eventually qualified 13th (Leclerc) and 14th (Vettel) .
“It is very difficult to find an explanation,” said Leclerc. “It’s a big step back to the others.
“We have to find the problem and address it. It’s not a good day, but it is right now.
“We have to work hard and keep our heads up in difficult times like these.
“We can understand that the fans are disappointed, but we can’t expect miracles.”
Four-time world champion Vettel, who is on the team in his final season, said: “This is the true picture of what our car can do. We have tried everything.
“We are not where we want to be, but this is not the first qualifying and the first race that this was the case.
HOW IT HAPPENED
After heavy rain overnight, the session started in cool and capricious conditions with occasional rain and sunshine in different parts of the circuit at the same time.
Much attention was drawn to Ferrari after their struggles in practice, but both drivers crowded into the second quarter, Leclerc.
The Belgian 2019 winner, who started from pole, survived the cut in 15th place, just eight hundredths of a second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in his Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo.
The Finn was one place ahead of the Canadian, along with his Alfa team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi, who was 18th, of the Ferrari-powered Haas cars driven by Romain Grosjean (17th) and Kevin Magnussen (20th) Rookie Nicholas Latifi of Williams, left early.
Hamilton started the first quarter ahead of Bottas with Verstappen in third and was immediately back on track in the second quarter with a lap in 1: 42.014, more than half a second faster than Leclerc’s pole time last year.
Russell and the two Alpha Tauris of Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly, together with Ferrari, managed to fail the second quarter.
After being licensed to use their “party” engine mode for the last time before being banned next week, Mercedes took the initiative in the third quarter when Hamilton set a new course record of 1: 41,451 and a provisional pole, 0.576 Seconds ahead of Bottas.
A quick lap from Ricciardo put him in third place for Renault, just 0.032 behind the Finn and ahead of the two Red Bulls in the first rounds as most of the teams ran in pairs in the slipstream and took their positions back for their second rounds.
However, Hamilton was on his own and proved this with his breathtaking second flight lap in 1: 41.252 – and another course record – to which Bottas reacted with a second, but more than half a second behind, when he fended off Verstappen’s challenge.