SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS: Double world champion Lewis Hamilton clinched the Formula One pole trophy at the Belgian Grand Prix yesterday with a flawless lap to take top slot on the starting grid for the 10th time in 11 races. The Mercedes driver will have his closest rival and team mate Nico Rosberg, last year’s inaugural pole trophy winner, alongside on the front row. The Mercedes pair will be determined not to repeat the fiasco of 2014, when Rosberg was on pole and they collided on the second lap. Hamilton kicked off a controversy after that race by accusing Rosberg of driving into him deliberately. Rosberg, who had led the championship at the same stage last year, is 21 points behind Hamilton with nine races remaining including today’s.
The German had been quickest in Friday practice but Hamilton banged in the quickest laps when it mattered to seize pole with a time of one minute 47.197 seconds and nearly half a second faster. “I’m really happy today with the performance of the car,” the Briton said after his sixth successive pole and 48th of his increasingly stellar grand prix career. “The car’s been feeling great on the circuit… Nico was very close but my last two laps were the best I’ve had all weekend.” It was the first time since Michael Schumacher’s domination with Ferrari in 2000-01 that a driver has chalked up six poles in a row. Hamilton’s main concern now will be a clean and quick getaway on Sunday, with the champion’s last three races being marred by poor starts. To add to the uncertainty, the starting rules have changed since the last race with the onus more on the man behind the wheel now that engineers are no longer allowed to advise the drivers remotely on the grid.
A disappointed Rosberg, who suffered an explosive blowout on Friday and recognised Hamilton had been just too quick on Saturday, hoped the new procedures might mix things up. “With the new start situation, and we’re having to do everything ourselves now, there’s a lot more opportunity tomorrow even at the start,” he said. “On the run down to turn five here it is possible to overtake so my hopes are for sure still alive.” Finland’s Valtteri Bottas qualified third for Williams and will be joined on the second row by Force India’s Mexican Sergio Perez due to a five-place grid penalty for Lotus’s Romain Grosjean ahead of him. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen failed to make it into the final phase of qualifying, for his team’s 900th race, after his engine died and the car ground to a halt on the track.
The Finn’s German team mate and fourtimes champion Sebastian Vettel, winner of the previous race in Hungary, qualified ninth but will start eighth thanks to Grosjean’s demotion from fourth. Australian Daniel Ricciardo, last year’s surprise winner in Spa, will start in fifth place with the Williams of Brazilian Felipe Massa in sixth. Toro Rosso’s Belgian-born Dutch 17-yearold Max Verstappen qualified 15th but will drop down after being penalised for an engine change. McLaren duo Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will start at the back after collecting a combined 105 place drop-on a grid of just 20 places-due to multiple changes of their Honda engines. With the rules changed last month so that time penalties could no longer be imposed for untaken grid drops, McLaren took advantage of the situation by carrying out two engine swaps per car to stack up units for use without penalty at future races. —Reuters