Nico Rosberg took pole in Belgium amid a tight qualifying session to finish narrowly ahead of Max Verstappen and the Ferrari drivers of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
Red Bull’s Danial Ricciardo made some uncharacteristic errors that pushed him down to fifth on the grid with the Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg in sixth and seventh.
The current championship leader, Lewis Hamilton, has been given engine penalties totalling 55 grid places and can chose to start from the back of the grid or pit lane.
HAMILTON FACES TOUGH TASK
Hamilton had foreshadowed that he intended to stockpile much-needed engine parts to see him through the remainder of the season.
And with Hamilton out of the qualifying contest, Rosberg was essentially given a free pass to claim pole and is now well-placed to reduce his 19-point deficit in the championship.
Hamilton did put in one qualifying lap on Saturday – mostly to spare himself a meeting with the stewards to ask for an exemption to race – but the task in front of him is momentous.
“I envisage it will be hard to get into the top 10. All I can do is to aim as high as possible. A podium feels unlikely but it’s not impossible,” said Lewis.
And his challenge is made all the more difficult with the hot conditions and the high tyre pressures chosen by Pirelli causing havoc with the tyre life.
“It is amazing what we have to do to get the tyres in the working window,” explained McLaren’s Jenson Button.”
“If you push on the out lap, they are done by turn three, blistering and overheating. What we have to do is crazy. I have never had to do this in my career before.”
“It’s the pressures. It’s not helped by the temperatures, but we go to hot countries and Pirelli know that.”
“It is shame we are so high on the pressures because we are in a position at the moment with the tyre where you can’t push the car. You are just rolling around with the tyre.”
TIGHT RACE EXPECTED
Rosberg’s pole position was by no means a foregone conclusion and the race is nicely setup for a tight contest behind the Mercedes.
Max Verstappen took second place but on super soft tyres that are expected to last only a handful of laps.
The Dutchman will almost certainly be forced into an early pit stop and will run a different race strategy compared to his team-mate Ricciardo and the Ferrari’s.
Raikkonen and Vettel did a spectacular job for Ferrari and they will now be focused on taking the remaining spots on the podium.
With a gap of just 0.166 seconds to Rosberg, Ferrari’s Raikkonen was disappointed not to have grabbed pole.
“Obviously I ran wide on my first try of the final qualifying, but the second run was pretty good,” said Raikkonen.
“But if you compare it to my Q2 lap, I lost two tenths in the final chicane – so pole was there.”
“It’s a bit disappointing not to get it because it would have been nice, but tomorrow is the race.”
Starting a little further back on the grid in ninth will be Jenson Button who delivered a blistering lap in his McLaren.
The Englishman said afterwards that it was “one of the best laps that I’ve ever done.”
The race will start at 14:00 local time and will run over 44 laps.