Nico Rosberg saw off a strong challenge from home favourite Max Verstappen to claim Pole Positon for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
Rosberg was expected to secure pole, owning to teammate Lewis Hamilton’s grid penalties. Delivering on expectation however, is a different matter. Verstappen lapped in 1:46.893, which was just 0.149 down on the 1:46.744 the Mercedes driver managed. Pole is Rosberg’s third in a row, after Hungary and Germany, and he will be hoping to finally convert one into a race victory.
Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel will form a Ferrari second row, with the Scuderia showing improved performance, ahead of the second Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez’s Force India.
Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas, Jenson Button and Felipe Massa rounded out the top 10 around the fearsome 4.352 miles of the Ardennes forest.
Back row comprised of World Champions:
Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were always going to start on the back-row. In what order was debatable, but Hamilton has been hit with a total penalty of 55 places, owing to a triple Turbo and MGU-H change. Alonso could only manage 35.
However, exiting the pits, the McLaren ground to a halt at Raidillion, with the team unsure whether another fresh PU will be required. If so, Alonso will start last.
Felipe Nasr was the first victim of a fresh clampdown by the stewards on track limits, by having his first Q1 time deleted by the stewards, followed seconds later by Kevin Magnussen in the Renault.
The Dane was later able to post the 14th quickest time and make it through, alongside teammate Jolyon Palmer (16th). Nasr failed to make it through, as there were Q2 opportunities for some of the back-markers, owning to the Hamilton and Alonso penalties.
The other three drivers to fail to make it through were Esteban Ocon, who was actually disappointed not to make it through, especially as teammate Pascal Wehrlein was a stunning P9 in the opening segment, Danill Kvyat and Marcus Ericsson in the Toro Rosso and Sauber respectively.
Race strategy decided in Q2:
In the heat of Spa, the SuperSoft tyre was lasting barely a handful of laps, and so is not the favoured race tyre, that honour going to the Soft.
Rosberg, Raikkonen, Vettel and Ricciardo opted to try and get through to Q3 on the Soft tyre, meaning that they will start the race on that compound.
Ricciardo was made to sweat in the closing stages as other drivers tried to beat his 1:48.027 on SuperSoft tyres, with Jenson Button coming closet, making Q3 for the third time in six races in the process.
It was 11th in Qualifying again for Haas, this time Romain Grosjean the first to miss out on a slot in Q3, ahead of Magnussen in a positive 12th for Renault. Esteban Gutierrez actually qualified 13th, but drops to 18th, the legacy of his FP3 incident with Wehrlein.
Palmer, Carlos Sainz and Wehrlein were the other three to drop out, as Verstappen limited his race strategy by using, and thus being forced to start on the SuperSoft tyre.
Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Rosberg:
If he has any hope of winning a maiden world crown, Nico Rosberg needs to win the Belgian Grand Prix. The 1:46.744 he completed on first Q3 runs was the benchmark, which no-one could beat.
Max Verstappen is already the youngest driver in Formula One history, youngest points scorer, youngest race winner, youngest podium winner and now the youngest ever driver to start a race from the front row, breaking the record the late Ricardo Rodriguez’s record set at the 1961 Italian GP.
Raikkonen abandoned his first lap, making a mistake on the exit of the Stavelot, and visiting the gravel, Vettel also made a minor mistake at the bus-stop on the final runs, estimating a loose rear end cost him “”a tenth, a tenth and a half”.
Force India maybe disappointed with sixth and seventh, but are ahead of both Williams’s, their main rivals for fourth in the constructors.
Ninth for Jenson Button at a track where he received a 55 place penalty 12 months ago shows the improvement Honda have made, this season and with the upgrade introduced.
|2.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull|
|5.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|6.||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|7.||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|14.||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso|
Five place penalty applied for FP3 incident with Wehrlein.
|19.||Danill Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
10 place penalty applied for taking a sixth Turbo.
35 place penalty applied for taking a sixth Power Unit, although further penalties are possible.
55 place penalty applied for taking sixth, seventh, and eighth Turbo and MGU-H elements.