SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS (Belgium) • Lewis Hamilton secured pole for the Belgian Grand Prix yesterday, putting in a series of quick laps that culminated in a final run that simply could not be matched by his competitors.
He beat his Formula One world championship rival Sebastian Vettel into second place. The Brition's Mercedes team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, was in third place, with the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in fourth.
His seventh pole of the season, with a lap that was absolutely breathtaking, two-tenths ahead of Vettel, means he has achieved the remarkable feat of matching Michael Schumacher's record of 68 career poles.
Hamilton has done so in his 200th grand prix and the Schumacher family sent their congratulations.
Schumacher, whose 91 race wins and seven championships will still take some beating, set his pole record at Magny-Cours in France in July 2006. The German has not been seen in public since he suffered severe head injuries in a skiing accident in France in 2013.
Hamilton was clearly moved by both his achievement and the family's message.
"I think and pray for Michael all the time. I've had the privilege of racing with him and always admired him and still do," he said. "I'm just honoured to be up there with him now in the poles but he will still be one of the greatest of all time."
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX GRID
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
3 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes
4 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari
5 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull
7 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault
8 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India
9 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India
10 Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault
11 Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren
16 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams
The Briton now has four poles in Belgium and will expect to convert the latest one into a win, his time of 1min 42.553sec smashing the existing track record of 1.44.503 set by Jarno Trulli in 2009.
Vettel joined his title rival on the front row after pulling out a late flying lap of 1:42.795.
Hamilton has won at Spa before in 2010 and 2015. He trails Vettel (202 points) by 14 points in the world championship and will be looking to narrow the gap today with nine races remaining.
Mercedes continued to show they have the edge over Ferrari over a single lap, the team have secured the top spot in nine of the 12 meetings this season.
Hamilton had set the quickest time on his first run in Q3, despite not managing to put together a perfect middle sector but remained three-tenths up on Raikkonen who was second-fastest.
He hooked it up at the second attempt, however, and he was untouchable on a track that rewards a driver willing to attack but who must temper aggression with inch-perfect accuracy.
Vettel, 30, announced he had signed a new three-year contract with Ferrari before qualifying, confirming that he would remain with the team until the end of 2020.
There had been speculation that he would join Mercedes and the team's non-executive director, Niki Lauda, confirmed that they had discussed it with him.
However, the fact that Ferrari are truly competitive this season will have played a major role in the German opting to stay.
Having confirmed Raikkonen has a further one-year contract earlier, Ferrari's announcement is likely to settle the driver market, with Mercedes now expected to confirm that Bottas will be retained for next year and Hamilton signed until 2018.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX
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