Lewis Hamilton blew away his rivals to claim his sixth straight pole position for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.
The world champion posted a best lap of one minute 47.197 seconds to leave Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg trailing in his wake by almost half-a-second.
It marked Hamilton’s 10th pole from 11 races this season, and with it, an unassailable lead in the race for the pole position trophy – a title which Rosberg won last year.
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 22, 2015
Valtteri Bottas was third for Williams with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, winner last time out in Hungary, only ninth.
After completing a practice double on Friday, Rosberg left this historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit suggesting he was “one step ahead” of his team-mate, who he trails by 21 points in the championship.
But the 30-year-old German will head into Sunday’s race at least one step behind Hamilton, and perhaps a few more.
Hamilton was in a different league here. His brilliant lap around this four-mile track bordered on genius, and the gap to Rosberg will be a hammer blow to the man who is set to become a father for the first time next week.
“I am really happy today with the performance of the car and so far this weekend,” said Hamilton, who is now just two shy of a half-century of pole positions.
“The car has been feeling great and this is a circuit where if you can get the right balance, it is fun to drive.
“Pole is fun to have but it is a long race and long stretch down to turn 5. My goal today was to get pole position and my last two laps were the best laps I had all weekend so I am really happy with them.”
Rosberg, who has got the better of his team-mate on just one occasion in qualifying this season, said: “For sure I am disappointed. I lost a bit this morning in free practice, we went the wrong way.
“I had a good balance in qualifying so I could push well but Lewis was too quick – in the end he found quite a bit extra which I didn’t have in my pocket.”
McLaren fell at the first hurdle but such is their demise this season it came as little surprise. Jenson Button qualified 17th ahead of his team-mate Fernando Alonso.
As has been the theme this weekend, only the Manor pair of Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi, were slower, but both Button – pictured enjoying a joke with Ron Dennis after the session – and Alonso will be demoted to the final row.
The pair have taken on an eighth Honda engine of the campaign – their second of the weekend, and following a raft of replacement components, were subjected to an unprecedented 105-place grid drop.
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 22, 2015
With only 20 cars on the entry list, their punishment is confined to propping up the pack when the lights turn green on Sunday.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the ailing team will be alarmed by the gap to their rivals.
Button’s best lap was one second adrift of the next car, the Sauber of Felipe Nasr. Alonso was even further back, half-a-second slower than Button.
McLaren headed into the weekend knowing that this track – where power holds the key – would not play into the hands of their uncompetitive Honda package – but could they have foreseen it would have been this bad?
“It’s funny, you cross the line and think maybe that lap was good enough to be further up,” Button, who started from pole here in 2012, said.
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 22, 2015
“That lap I did was equal to my pole position lap three years ago. So you’ve got to deal with that and it’s the same for both of us and the whole team. There is a long way to go before we’re competitive.”
One of McLaren’s former drivers Kimi Raikkonen is enduring an equally frustrating season. The 2007 world champion was surprisingly signed up by Ferrari for the 2016 campaign earlier this week, but that is where his luck ran out.
Midway through Q2, he stopped on track at turn 14. “Something broke,” Raikkonen said. His qualifying over, and with no time under his belt, he placed 14th. It was a bad afternoon for Ferrari in their 900th grand prix weekend, with Vettel only ninth.
Romain Grosjean starred for Lotus and qualified fourth but faces a five-place grid drop for a gearbox change.
Sergio Perez was next up in his Force India with Daniel Ricciardo sixth for Red Bull. Felipe Massa, Pastor Maldonado, Vettel and Carlos Sainz completed the top 10.
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Bernie Ecclestone insists the future of the Italian Grand Prix remains in doubt and says he has no idea whether a new agreement will be reached.
The Italian Grand Prix has been a permanent fixture on the Formula One calendar since its inception in 1950, with Monza playing host to every race bar one.
However, the iconic track's most recent deal expires at the end of next season and Formula One chief Ecclestone is already on the record as saying there is a "good chance" it will be lost.
Asked if a new deal will be signed, Ecclestone, 84, said: "No idea, I haven't got a clue. We're happy to be at Monza obviously but we're not doing cut-price things."
The Formula One paddock heads to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix in a fortnight's time, and Ecclestone added: "We'll see when we get there. They've got a contract, all they have to do is find a pen. It's easy.
"We had a deal with them two years ago, so if they just continue with it it's okay."
Ecclestone also revealed that the Russian Grand Prix, which will take place in May for the first time next season to coincide with a national holiday, could host its first night race within two years.
"We have talked about it, maybe 2017," Ecclestone, flanked by Russian Grand Prix chiefs Alexander Saurin and Sergey Vorobyev here in Spa, said.
Circuit organisers are in early discussions over extending the seven-year contract they signed in 2014. Ecclestone added: "You can book your tickets for the next 10 years."
Nico Rosberg has said only luck prevented him from crashing into the wall after he suffered a spectacular 200mph tyre blowout in practice for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old German was approaching Blanchimont when he suffered a catastrophic right-rear tyre failure on his Mercedes.
Rosberg was a helpless passenger as his car was sent into a high-speed slide following the tyre explosion, but mercifully he avoided a heavy impact with the wall.
— PETRONAS Motorsports (@PET_Motorsports) August 20, 2015
“It was quite a shock because I didn’t expect it,” Rosberg, whose wife Vivian is due to give birth to their first child next week, said.
“It was not a nice experience at nearly 200mph to suddenly lose control. Something failed on the right rear.
“Unfortunately it wasn’t down to my skill, it was just luck that I stayed away from the wall.
“Of course it is a little bit of a dent in the confidence. I didn’t feel anything before – there was no warning at all – so there is going to be a big analysis.”
Rosberg refused to speculate on the cause of the failure while Pirelli – the sport’s sole tyre supplier – vowed to carry out a full investigation into the harrowing incident.
Rosberg can, however, be heartened by a strong display on Formula One’s return to action in the idyllic surroundings of this historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
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He set the pace in both practice sessions and his fastest lap of one minute 49.385 seconds in the afternoon was three tenths quicker than Hamilton, who leads Rosberg by 21 points in the drivers’ standings.
Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat were next up for Red Bull with Kimi Raikkonen, who has extended his stay with Ferrari into 2016, fifth fastest.
Hamilton said: “Nico is very quick so I have some work to do tonight to see where I can find some time.
“Ferrari and Red Bull also look closer here than they have at past weekends, so it’ll be a close run thing.
“What happened towards the end with Nico obviously wasn’t good but luckily he’s unhurt.
“I have no concerns, though. You have to have trust in the car and in the tyres to go out there and push, so it’s not something you think about.”
— lou (@lukbon) August 21, 2015
McLaren’s season has long since gone from bad to worse, but here they were dealt a fresh twist – a record combined 55-place grid drop for Sunday’s race.
Button was hit with a 25-place grid penalty after taking on his seventh engine of the season and for additional component changes.
Alonso, who finished fifth at the Hungarian Grand Prix, will serve an even greater penalty after having a raft of new parts fitted to what is also his seventh different Honda engine of the campaign.
The pair will be demoted to the back of the grid, but, with only 20 cars entered into Sunday’s race, will not face any subsequent punishments. A ruling was put in place following their accumulative 50-place grid penalty in Austria earlier this season.
McLaren have brought a new-specification Honda engine to Spa – a track where power is integral – but the end result was the same on Friday. Button and Alonso ended the second session ahead of only the Manor cars of Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi in 17th and 18th.