SPA- FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton roared to a record-equalling 68th career pole position on Saturday (Aug 26), matching Michael Schumacher’s record in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The 32-year-old three-time world champion will start Sunday’s race, the 200th of his career, from his sixth pole this year with Germany’s championship leader Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari alongside him in second.
Hamilton’s lap in 1min 42.553sec was the all-time record fastest at the spectacular Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the forests of the Belgian Ardennes, 0.242 seconds quicker than Vettel.
The 68th pole position for the Mercedes driver drew him level in the record books with seven-time champion Schumacher whose congratulations were conveyed to him immediately afterwards by former Ferrari and Mercedes technical director Ross Brawn.
Briton Brawn, who guided Schumacher to all seven of his titles with Benetton (two) and Ferrari (five), hugged Hamilton on the track and said he had a special message.
“I am here to deliver a special message from the Schumacher family who want to congratulate you on equalling Michael’s record,” said Brawn.
“He always said records are there to be beaten and they want to say a special thanks.”
Hamilton, who appeared to be visibly moved with emotion, said: “First, a big shout to the fans here – I can’t believe it. A big thank you to my team.
“Ross was a big part of that. This is one of my favourite circuits so to put a lap together like that is like a dream.
“To hear that message which Ross just gave... a big thank you.
“I pray for Michael and his family all the time.
“I have always admired him and I still do today. I am honoured to be there with him now on the pole positions, but he will still be one of the greatest of all time.”
Schumacher suffered severe head injuries in a skiing accident at the end of 2013 and has been in prolonged private recuperation at his family home in Switzerland since then.
Vettel, who Ferrari said Saturday has signed a three-year contract extension, secured his front-row spot with a late and dramatic lap for Ferrari.
He leads Hamilton by 14 points with nine races remaining this year.
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas of qualified third ahead of Finnish compatriot Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari, Dutchman Max Vestappen and his Red Bull team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo.
German Nico Hulkenberg was seventh for Renault ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez and his Force India team-mate Frenchman Esteban Ocon and Briton Jolyon Palmer, who was 10th for Renault after an engine failure.