SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium — McLaren’s championship leader Lewis Hamilton clinched pole position for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix ahead of his main challenger Felipe Massa, on a track which was supposed to favor the Ferrari car.
Hamilton’s McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen took third place on the grid, with the second Ferrari driver, world champion Kimmi Raikkonen, completing the top four.
“The team made no mistakes and I made no mistakes,” said Hamilton after clinching his fifth pole of the season. “I’m more and more comfortable in the car.”
BMW-Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld was fifth, edging former world champion Fernando Alonso of Renault.
Hamilton set a time of 1 minute, 47.338 seconds on Saturday in the decisive qualifying session at the 7.004 kilometer (4.352-mile) Spa-Francorchamps circuit, beating Massa by 0.340 seconds.
It was a sizable margin on a circuit where the Ferrari car has traditionally done well. Massa, who is trying to close the 70-64 gap with Hamilton in the world standing could not figure what went wrong.
“Sometimes you do a great lap and you still miss something,” Massa said. “I need to understand why.”
Hamilton had an answer immediately: great driving.
“Clean, smooth, flowing,” he said about his own achievement. “It really feels incredible.”
Raikkonen, trailing Hamilton by 13 points, continued to disappoint on a circuit he safely can call his own since he won the last three races here.
He spun off in practice on Friday, and has been chasing his teammate Massa all weekend.
If Raikkonen is to challenge for the title over the last six of 18 races, he will have to start piling on the points here, considering he has not won a race since April.
Still, the long stretches cutting through the pines and hills of the Ardennes in southern Belgium offers plenty of passing opportunities, making the starting grid position less important than in many other races.
On top of that, the weather could suddenly change. Despite leaden skies hanging low over the track, the whole qualifying session was run in dry conditions. Rain could still come sweeping in on Sunday at extremely short notice, which has had a direct impact on the results in the past.
“We’ll have to see how the weather will be,” Massa said.
Qualifying came down to the last minute of the hour-long session when all major challengers were on their best lap.
Massa led the way with a clean drive, but Hamilton just behind kept clipping tenths of seconds off his time with an excellent drive.
“I cannot explain how great it is,” a jubilant Hamilton said.
The performance showed what a composed driver Hamilton has become in only his second year on the circuit. Last year too, he was leading the overall championship at this stage but his nerves unraveled over the last races when he gave up a seemingly insurmountable lead to Raikkonen.
Unlike last year, when Hamilton became increasingly embittered with his then-teammate Alonso, the Briton feels the whole team is pulling the same way now.
“The atmosphere in the team is great,” said Hamilton, who also knows that teammate Kovalainen is already far back in the standings with 43 points and can help him Sunday.
After Saturday’s qualifying; race Sunday
At Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
At Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
1. Lewis Hamilton, Britain, McLaren, 1 minute, 47.338 seconds.
2. Felipe Massa, Brazil, Ferrari, 1:47.678.
3. Heikki Kovalainen, Finland, McLaren, 1:47.815.
4. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Ferrari, 1:47.992.
5. Nick Heidfeld, Germany, BMW Sauber, 1:48.315.
6. Fernando Alonso, Spain, Renault, 1:48.504.
7. Mark Webber, Australia, Red Bull, 1:48.736.
8. Robert Kubica, Poland, BMW Sauber, 1:48.763.
9. Sebastien Bourdais, France, Toro Rosso, 1:48.951.
10. Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Toro Rosso, 1:50.319.
11, Jarno Trulli, Italy, Toyota, 1:46.46.949.
12. Nelson Piquet Jr., Brazil, Renault, 1:46.965.
13. Timo Glock, Germany, Toyota, 1:46.995.
14. David Coulthard, Britain, Red Bull, 1:47.018.
15. Nico Rosberg, Germany, Williams, 1:47.429.
16. Rubens Barrichello, Brazil, Honda, 1:48.153.
17. Jenson Button, Britain, Honda, 1: 48.211.
18. Adrian Sutil, Germany, Force India, 1:48.226.
19. Kazuki Nakajima, Japan, Williams, 1:48.268.
20. Giancarlo Fisichella, Italy, Force India, 1:48.447