Nico Rosberg bounced back and took full advantage of his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s multiple penalties to grab pole position on Saturday for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.
The 31-year-old German, who is 19 points behind three-time champion Hamilton in the title race, recovered from a mediocre showing in practice to produce a well-judged performance in a tightly-contested qualifying session.
“We’ve had a pretty difficult weekend up to now, especially this morning, so I am happy we have got the job done,” said Rosberg. “Having made some changes to the car before qualifying, I am very pleased.
“I am very happy to be on pole, but the tyres are going to be difficult and there is going to be a lot going on in this race. It will not be easy.”
Taking full advantage of Hamilton’s grid penalties, that reached 55 after his third power-unit change on Saturday morning and consigned him to the back of the grid, Rosberg was back to something like his best.
It was Rosberg’s fifth pole this season and the 28th of his career – and gives him a great chance to reduce, or even overhaul, Hamilton’s 19-point lead in the drivers’ title race.
Dutch teenager and local hero Max Verstappen was second to become the youngest front-row starter in Formula One history, qualifying ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari in front of his army of fans in the sprawling and spectacular Ardennes circuit.
“You can always do a better job, but Nico could have done a better lap too,” said Verstappen.
“To be so close to Nico on a track with long straights – we can be very pleased with that. I’m very pleased to be second in front of my fans. It’s such a great motivation.”
Raikkonen said: “It went pretty well on the second run, but I lost two-tenths in the last chicane. The pole was there…. Still, tomorrow is the race and I feel satisfied.”
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull.
“It’s supposed to be cooler tomorrow,” said Vettel. “But it’s been hot all weekend. I think we can win this race, but it will be key to look after the tyres and we need to have a smart strategy.”
Mexican Sergio Perez was sixth ahead of his Force India team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas of Williams, Jenson Button of McLaren Honda and Felipe Massa in the second Williams.
“Thank you guys,” said Rosberg, while talking to his team on his slowdown lap. “Awesome recovery and a really good job done.”
The session was run in continuing sweltering conditions with an air temperature of 36 degrees Celsius and the track at 44 degrees – utterly unexpected by tyre suppliers Pirelli and many of the teams who made aggressive tyre selections in advance, expecting much cooler weather.
At the age of 18 years and 331 days, Verstappen passed the record of previous youngest front-row starter Ricardo Rodriguez at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, when he was 19 years and 208 days.
Hamilton will start from the back alongside two-time champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren, who also collected multiple penalties for fitting new power units. – Agence France-Presse