Hamilton takes Belgian pole with new record after Ferrari flop

Lewis Hamilton has broken the track record at Spa-Francorchamps to beat Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix.

The world championship leader was untouchable in the top-10 shootout, setting two laps quick enough for pole to keep Bottas at bay by a whopping half-second.

“Very, very clean session,” he said. “Every lap was just getting better and better.”

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

Hamilton was notably subdued in celebration, the Briton weighed down by news of the death of actor Chadwick Boseman, best known for his portrayal of Marvel action hero Black Panther.

“Today is a really important pole for me because I woke up to the saddest news of Chadwick passing away,” he said. “It’s been such a heavy year I think for all of us, and that news just really, really broke me.

“It was not easy to get back in focus today with that hanging on my heart, but I wanted to go out there and drive to perfection.

“What he’s done for our people … it’s shown all the young kids it’s possible. He was such a shining light.”

Bottas found marginal gains between his first and second laps in Q3 but the Finn was mystified by the half-second deficit to his teammate.

“The second run felt actually pretty good overall,” he said. “I don’t really know about the gap to Lewis.

“But I’m not too bothered, because I know second place is quite a good place to start here.

“I’m definitely going to go for it, and I think the first lap is a good opportunity.”

Max Verstappen qualified third for Red Bull Racing, but the Dutchman rued the slim 0.015 seconds to Bottas on the first row.

“We came here and thought it was going to be really tricky for us, but to be P3 and that close to Valtteri — okay, it was still half a second to Lewis — I think I can be very pleased with that,” he said.

“A good day and a lot of opportunities for tomorrow.”

But neither Bottas nor Verstappen was in Hamilton’s league. The Briton’s two qualifying laps were both new track records, his quickest lap of 1 minute 41.252 seconds bettering the previous record by 0.252 seconds.

Ironically the new record was set on a day the holder of the previous benchmark, Sebastian Vettel, couldn’t so much as make the top 10 on the grid in an embarrassingly slow afternoon for his Ferrari team.

Vettel and teammate Charles Leclerc qualified 14th and 13th as the quickest Ferrari-engined cars on the grid, with Ferrari powering six of the slowest eight drivers in qualifying at the power-sensitive Spa-Francorchamps.

It was a particularly traumatic turnaround for Leclerc, who dominated qualifying in 2019 en route to his maiden F1 victory.

In place of the Ferrari qualified a mixed top 10, with Daniel Ricciardo qualifying a superb fourth for Renault, his best-ever Saturday result in Belgium.

The Australian was 0.8 seconds off the pace by 0.2 seconds quicker than Thai driver Alex Albon in the second Red Bull Racing machine.

Esteban Ocon qualified sixth in the sister Renault ahead of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.

Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll will start eighth and ninth on the grid for Racing Point, with Lando Norris completing the top 10 for McLaren.

AlphaTauri teammates Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly missed a top-10 berth by 0.008s, but both were comfortably faster than Ferrari’s Leclerc and Vettel.

The famous Italian team is celebrating 1000 races as an engine supplier in Formula One, but the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, notoriously demanding on engines, showed up the 2020-spec Ferrari power unit as severely lacking horsepower.

Ferrari boasted the fastest engine for much of last year, but a confidential agreement with governing body the FIA over suspected irregularities during the off-season has preceded its drop to last among the four engine manufacturers in the power stakes and taken the works team well out of victory contention.

Leclerc was almost a full second off the fastest time when he was knocked out of Q2 in 13th. Vettel was another 0.3 seconds adrift to share the seventh row from 14th.

George Russell spared the works Ferrari team some blushed by qualifying 15th and last in Q2.

Kimi Raikkonen qualified 16th in his Alfa Romeo-Ferrari as the first driver knocked out in a Q1 session dominated by Ferrari-powered cars.

The Alfa Romeo-Ferrari driver was 0.1 seconds quicker than Romain Grosjean’s Haas-Ferrari, who in turn was a tenth ahead of the sister Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi.

Nicholas Latifi qualified 19th as the only non-Ferrari-powered driver in the bottom five, pushing Kevin Magnussen’s Haas to the back of the grid.