Nico Rosberg took his sixth pole position of the 2016 Formula One season at Spa-Francorchamps ahead of Max Verstappen who became the youngest driver to claims a front-row start at a grand prix. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was third and will line up on the second row with team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
With championship leader Lewis Hamilton set to start at the back of the grid due to penalties incurred following a host of power unit changes, Rosberg put himself in the perfect position to claw back some of the 19-point deficit that exists between him and his Mercedes team-mate.
It wasn’t as straightforward as Rosberg might have liked, however. After easing through the first two sessions and having seen Hamilton eliminated in Q1 as the Briton made little effort to seal a grid position that would then be erased, Rosberg was pushed hard in Q3 by Verstappen.
The Red Bull Racing teenager finished just 0.1s behind the Mercedes driver and afterwards Rosberg admitted that the session had not been as smooth as it might have appeared.
“We had a difficult weekend up to now, especially this morning,” he said of the fight to seal his 28th career pole position. “We were seriously off the pace on one lap, so it really wasn’t so easy coming into qualifying. But we got the job done in the end. We really made quite a few changes on the car coming into qualifying and we found the right way. It all came together and it was feeling good, so I’m very pleased about that one.”
Verstappen too had a tough time in the run-up to qualifying. A gearbox problem after just two installation laps saw him miss out on any meaningful running in final practice. But the Dutch driver put the setback behind him and after also breezing through the opening two sessions he pressed hard for his first pole position.
He might have narrowly missed out but in finishing just behind Rosberg, Verstappen becomes the youngest driver to start from the front row of a grand prix grid. The Red Bull driver was sanguine about the achievement, however.
“I’m just very happy to be on the front row in Spa in front of all my fans,” he said. I mean, it’s great to break a record but I want to break other records.
“I think to be so close to [Mercedes] on a track with some long straights, we can be very pleased with that,” he added. “The whole weekend has been very smooth, even though I had some little issues this morning. From there on the mechanics did a great job and in qualifying the car was working really well, as you could see in sector two. I’m just very pleased to be second here in front of my fans, it’s just a great motivation when you see them next to the track.”
Ferrari enjoyed a good qualifying, with Raikkonen in third place, his best qualifying performance since the Russian Grand Prix in early May, and Vettel fourth.
Neither Ferrari man was entirely pleased, however. Vettel was unhappy with his final lap, however, complaining of a lack of rear grip in the final corner, while Raikkonen said a shot at pole has been possible.
“I lost a few tenths in the last chicane, so obviously the pole position was there, so it was a bit disappointing because obviously once we are close by there it would have been nice to get it,” said the Finn, a four-time Belgian Grand Prix winner. “But tomorrow is the race and I think if we compare it to the previous few races we have to be satisfied with where we are after qualifying.”
Behind then Daniel Ricciardo qualified fifth. The Australian was one of just four drivers to set his fastest time of Q2 on soft tyres and thus he will join Rosberg and both Ferrari drivers in starting on that compound tomorrow.
Behind Ricciardo, Sergio Perez was sixth for Force India, ahead of team-mate Nico Hulkenberg and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas the battle between the two teams for P4 in the Constructors’ Championship continues. Jenson Button was ninth for McLaren, ahead of the second Williams of Felipe Massa.
Further back Hamilton will start from the rear of the grid thanks to the multiple penalties incurred, as will Fernando Alonso. The McLaren driver failed to set a time after he ground to halt at Eau Rouge on his Q1 out lap. The Spaniard suffered an engine change on Friday and will take another one ahead of the race which will incur further penalties.