Formula One: Rosberg aims to cut 19-point gap to penalised Hamilton at Spa

Nico Rosberg defied yesterday's sizzling conditions at Spa, where the air temperature reached 36 deg C, to bag pole position for the fifth time this season.
Nico Rosberg defied yesterday's sizzling conditions at Spa, where the air temperature reached 36 deg C, to bag pole position for the fifth time this season.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Pole sitter Rosberg could cut gap to penalised Hamilton or even overhaul leader in Belgium

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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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Title race heats up at Spa'. Print Edition | Subscribe