Rain king Hamilton secures pole in Belgium after wet-weather masterclass
‘I went off the track twice, but I am so glad I managed to keep it together’
Lewis Hamilton drives his Mercedes during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton is on pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix after delivering yet another chapter in his book of wet-weather masterclasses.
As the rain swept in over the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit, Hamilton took advantage of the tricky conditions to finish comfortably clear of title rival Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel, who trails Hamilton by 24 points in the championship, was the strong favourite to take pole with Ferrari holding the advantage over Mercedes in the dry.
But as the rain arrived in the seconds before the top-10 shootout, it was Hamilton who took the spoils to finish a mighty seven tenths clear of Vettel.
“That was one of the toughest qualifying sessions that I can remember,” Hamilton said after securing the 78th pole of his career.
“I don’t know if Ferrari definitely had the pole in the dry. I was hopeful I could make it but I knew it would be close.
“Then, the rain came, and I can’t express how difficult it was. It was so hard. I went off the track twice, but I am so glad I managed to keep it together on that last lap.”
Vettel added: “We didn’t time it great, but in these conditions anything can happen, so you may as well take second. We had the pace for pole, but the lap to Lewis was quite big so he deserved it.”
The result will come as a blow to Vettel, with Hamilton’s surge to the top in qualifying the first time the world champion has been fastest all weekend.
Hamilton ran wide on his first attempt at pole, but, as has so often been the case in his career, did not put a foot wrong when the pressure was on.
Like Hamilton, Force India, the British-based team taken out of administration over the summer, also made the most of the inclement conditions to line up in third and fourth.
Earlier in the dry, McLaren’s sorry season took another miserable twist with the British team’s worst qualifying session of the year.
Fernando Alonso finished only 17th, while his under-fire team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne propped up the order at his home race.
Alonso, 37, announced over the summer break that he will call time on his 17-season career at the end of the year, but Vandoorne’s future is likely to be taken out of his own hands.
The Belgian driver, in his second season with the Woking team, had already posted the slowest time in all three practice sessions before his qualifying nightmare.
British teenager Lando Norris deputised for Alonso in opening practice on Friday here, and the feeling is that he could be promoted in Vandoorne’s place next year.
Norris, 18, would join Carlos Sainz, who is moving from Renault to McLaren, but the Spaniard was also slow on Saturday, falling at the first hurdle of qualifying. He is set to line up in 16th.
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1min 58.179secs, 2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:58.905, 3 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 2:01.851, 4 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 2:01.894, 5 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 2:02.122, 6 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 2:02.671, 7 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 2:02.769, 8 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 2:02.939, 9 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 2:04.933, 10 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP No Time, 11 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:43.844, 12 Brendon Hartley (Nzl) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:43.865, 13 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Sauber-Ferrari 1:44.062, 14 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber-Ferrari 1:44.301, 15 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault No Time, 16 Carlos Sainz (Esp) Renault 1:44.489, 17 Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren 1:44.917, 18 Sergey Sirotkin (Rus) Williams 1:44.998, 19 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 1:45.134, 20 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 1:45.307