Lewis Hamilton claimed pole for the Belgium Grand Prix ahead of title rival Sebastian Vettel to equal Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 68 pole starts.

Hamilton qualified at the front of the grid beating Vettel by 0.242 seconds. In third is Bottas who will be joined on the second row by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.

Max Verstappen enjoyed strong support from a large group of travelling Dutch supporters and qualified in fifth in front of Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

Nico Hulkenberg will start from seventh on the grid followed by both Force India’s and fellow Renault driver Jolyon Palmer.

Battle of Q3 Falls to Hamilton

It was a strong qualifying session for Hamilton who knocked over his first record of the day in Q2 by eclipsing the 1m43s barrier at Spa.

He found similar pace on the first hot laps of Q3 to easily lead Raikkonen and Bottas and forge a half-second gap to Vettel.

Hamilton stepped up another gear in the final Q3 run to reduce his time a further 0.354secs. When Bottas landed in second place ahead of Raikkonen, the pressure mounted on Vettel to significantly improve on his time over the weekend.

But the German turned in his own sublime lap to join Hamilton on the front row and make for a mouth-watering start to the iconic Belgium Grand Prix.

Vettel said: “I am happy with today’s result. I think we achieved something that some people didn’t expect from us.”

“The pace was very good and I am really looking forward to tomorrow. It will be a long race with a lot of laps and a long track where more or less everyone has had problems with the tires during the weekend.”

Hamilton in esteemed company

While many predicted Mercedes to out-qualify Ferrari at the fast and free flowing Spa-Francorchamps, Hamilton really stepped up across the entire lap to close down any advantage for the Scuderia.

Ferrari had been quicker than Mercedes in the more technical middle sector but the Englishman managed to produce the best sector time by 0.2 seconds on the last Q3 hot laps.

It put Hamilton comfortably on the front of the grid and he now equals Michael Schumacher’s pole record.

“It’s a special day,” said Hamilton. “I knew it was on the horizon and knew I’d get the 68th pole, but I haven’t thought about it much.”

“But now being there it is an unusual place to be. I remember coming here in 1996, my first grand prix, and watching Michael come by and the engine vibrated my rib cage and that was when my love for the sport took another step.”

“And I have now equalled him on poles and it is very surreal. It is a humbling experience knowing Michael is such a legend. It is an incredible feat he achieved and I am very proud to be up there with him.”

“To be able to put a lap together like that is a dream.”

Renault Recover and Williams Fail

Behind the dash for the front grid positions, Renault was producing perhaps their best qualifying session of the season.

Hulkenberg edged ahead of the Force India’s to qualify in seventh, while under-pressure Palmer looked strong but had his Q3 cut short early by a loss of gearbox oil pressure on his out-lap and he pulled off the track in a cloud of smoke.

Further back, the troubles continue for Williams who are having a miserable weekend in Belgium.

Massa was already facing a five-place penalty for ignoring yellow flags in practice and couldn’t get out of Q1 despite getting the maximum for his car.

“I’m so disappointed with the result,” said Massa.

“The car is just not competitive so I’m pretty disappointed.”

Massa will start in 16th and team-mate Lance Stroll begins in 18th.