SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS • Nico Rosberg boosted his hopes of regaining control of the Formula One World Championship yesterday when he claimed pole position for today's Belgian Grand Prix.
Taking full advantage of his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton's multiple grid penalties that have consigned him to the back of the grid, the 31-year-old German delivered a well-judged performance to complete a hat-trick of poles.
It was his fifth pole this season and the 28th of his career - and gives him a great chance to reduce, or even overhaul, Hamilton's 19-point lead in the drivers' title race.
Dutch-Belgian teenager and local hero Max Verstappen was second to become the youngest front-row starter in F1 history ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was fourth in the second Ferrari, ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull.
BELGIAN GP STARTING GRID
1 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
2 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull
3 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
5 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull
6 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India
7 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India
8 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams
9 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren
10 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams
11 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas
12 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Renault
13 Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Haas
14 Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault
15 Carlos Sainz Jr (Esp) Toro Rosso
16 Pascal Wehrlein (Ger) Manor
17 Felipe Nasr (Bra) Sauber
18 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Manor
19 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Toro Rosso
20 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber
21 Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren
22 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes
Sergio Perez was sixth ahead of his Force India team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas of Williams, Jenson Button of McLaren-Honda and Felipe Massa in the second Williams.
"Thank you, guys," said Rosberg, while talking to his team on his slowdown lap. "Awesome recovery and a really good job done."
He added: "We've had a pretty difficult weekend up to now, so I am happy we have got the job done.
"I am happy to be on pole, but the tyres are going to be difficult and there is going to be a lot going on in this race. It will not be easy."
The session began in sweltering conditions with an air temperature of 36 deg C and the track at 44 deg C - utterly unexpected by tyre suppliers Pirelli and many of the teams.
"The key to today is it's so hot which is unusual and these tyres aren't lasting. They're buckling, blistering and not lasting so tomorrow is the hardest day to come through," said Hamilton. "Today has been about getting the car set up to go as far as possible. I want to get as high up as I can but it is going to be hard tomorrow."
Fernando Alonso's troubled weekend continued when, having collected a 35-place grid penalty for taking a new power unit, he suffered a car failure without clocking a lap time.
He was already destined to join Hamilton at the back of the grid, the defending champion having collected a 55-place grid penalty for taking three power units.
Out with them went Marcus Ericsson, who has a 10-place penalty, Russian Daniil Kvyat and French debutant Esteban Ocon.
All of this meant that Briton Jolyon Palmer managed to squeeze his Renault through to Q2 for the second consecutive race and Hamilton, with a broad smile, faced the media after an early departure.
"It could be fun," he said. "I've never qualified 18th before, but in this heat, it could be the wrong time to take these penalties as the tyres will be gone so quickly, but it is what it is." He added that the super-soft tyres were "terrible - and they only last three laps... So, it won't be cool and easy breezy at all".
Rosberg, Raikkonen, Vettel and Ricciardo all went through on the soft tyres, meaning that will be the rubber they use to start today's race rather than the fragile super-soft.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX
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