The refrain “rain, rain, go away” wasn’t the song for Lewis Hamilton as Q3 precipitation washed away the pole sitting hopes of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen from Ferrari. Dry conditions in the first two sessions saw the pair well and truly on pace before the skies delivered a boon for the Mercedes driver.
Hamilton wasn’t flawless; a few mistakes in the Q3 session had Vettel still threaten however the German wasn’t able to piece together a lap that flowed, leaving Hamilton to claim the sixth pole in a row for the Silver Arrows and his fifth in Belgium, bettering both Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna. His time was a full 0.8th of a second ahead of Vettel, in a time of 1:58.179.
Ferrari will be left to rue the “one” that got away, that one being the final qualifying session. Practice too was all red. The track had been dry on Friday and Saturday, and with slicks the order of the day it was a mad last-minute scramble to get the intermediates on for Q3. And although disappointed with what he called miscommunication in regards to getting his Ferrari out after a tire swap, Vettel says of the Sunday race: “I’m quite sure we have good pace in the car, also for the race, so looking forward to that.” Raikonnen was left almost stranded after a light fuel load left he and the team without enough to safely get out after a tire swap. He’ll start from P6.
Third position on the grid was claimed by Esteban Ocon. The young Frenchman from the recently bought-out Force India also struggled in getting rain tyres onto his car, after gambling on trying slicks during the rain lashed session. A smart call came in and both he and team-mate Sergio Perez swapped rubber, with satisfying results.
“What I knew is definitely that when it’s damp conditions like this you have an opportunity and something to do. It’s always closer between the cars when the conditions are like that and today we maximised the potential of our car.” said a grinning Ocon. It’s his first time as a qualifier for P3.
Red Bull’s chances of a win seem slim after trying a low down-force setup for qualifying, with Daniel Ricciadro also dealing with an engine issue during practice. A low fuel load compared to the other higher placed qualifiers had both he and Max Verstappen on the back foot in Q3, meaning that the actual time to get into the pits, swap to intermediates, and get back out was compromised, the same situation that Kimi Raikonnen faced in his tilt for pole.
Red Bull will start from grid positions seven and eight for the race.
Romain Grosjean managed to overcome stutters in both practice and the early qualifying sessions to slide into P5. A similar call to Red Bull by starting on slicks was swiftly reversed and resulted in the Haas driver quickly onto better wet weather rubber for the full session. Team mate Kevin Magnussen will start from P9. Mercedes driver and Hamilton team mate Valterri Bottas closed out the top ten with Toro Rosso drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley just missing out in P11 and P12.
The Johnnie Walker Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix gets under way at 15:10 local time Sunday August 26.