Lewis Hamilton delivered two successive record breaking qualifying laps to claim his sixth Belgian Grand Prix pole position and a record-increasing 93rd of his career with a flawless demonstration of speed on Saturday.
The championship leader and six-time champion clocked a best lap in one minute and 41.252 seconds in the final seconds of a session that he dominated in a personal tribute to the Hollywood film actor Chadwick Boseman, who died on Friday.
His Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was second, to complete another ‘black arrows’ front row of the grid, but he was more than half a second adrift of Hamilton’s pace.
It was Hamilton’s fifth pole in seven races this year, a feat he said he had wanted to achieve in memory of Boseman whose life had been an inspiration to Hamilton.
“Today was a very, very clean session for me and the end of the lap was getting better and better. We did such a lot of work for this in the background,” said Hamilton.
“This is a really important pole for me because I woke up to the saddest news of Chadwick passing away… It has been such a heavy year for all of us so it rocked me. I wanted to go out there and drive to perfection because of what he has done for our people and how he has shown young kids what is possible.”
Max Verstappen, who trails Hamilton by 37 points in the drivers’ title race, took third place for Red Bull ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who aborted his final lap, and Alex Albon in the second Red Bull.
Esteban Ocon took sixth in the second Renault ahead of Carlos Sainz of McLaren, the two Racing Points of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, and Lando Norris in the second McLaren.
After winning last year’s race, Charles Leclerc and his Ferrari team-mate four-time champion Sebastian Vettel were eliminated during Q2 and will start Sunday’s race from 13th and 14th positions.
After heavy overnight rain, the session began in cool and capricious conditions with occasional rain and sunshine at different parts of the circuit at the same time.
Much attention was focussed on Ferrari after their struggles in practice, but both drivers squeezed through into Q2, Leclerc by the narrowest of margins.
The 2019 Belgian winner, who had started from pole, survived the cut in 15th place, just eight-hundredths of a second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in his Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo.
The Finn was joined in making an early exit by both Ferrari-powered Haas cars driven by Romain Grosjean, 17th, and Kevin Magnussen in 20th along with his Alfa team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi who was 18th, one place ahead of Canadian rookie Nicholas Latifi of Williams.
Hamilton topped the Q1 times ahead of Bottas with Verstappen third and was back on the pace immediately in Q2 with a lap in 1:42.014, more than half a second quicker than Leclerc’s pole time last year.
Joining Ferrari in failing to make it out of Q2 were Russell and the two Alpha Tauris of Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly.
Given licence to use their ‘party’ engine mode for the last time before it is banned next week, Mercedes took the initiative in Q3 with Hamilton clocking 1:41.451 for a new track record and provisional pole, 0.576 seconds clear of Bottas.
A fast lap from Ricciardo gave him third for Renault, just 0.032 behind the Finn and ahead of the two Red Bulls on the opening runs as most of the teams slipstreamed in pairs, reverting positions for their second runs.
Hamilton was out on his own, however, and proved it with his stunning second flying lap in 1:41.252 – and another track lap record – to which Bottas responded by taking second, but more than half a second adrift as he fended off Verstappen’s challenge.