Belgian GP | Rosberg tops qualifying as Verstappen takes to the front row

Nico Rosberg tops qualifying at the Belgian Grand Prix.

With Hamilton set to start the Belgian Grand Prix from the back row of the grid, Nico Rosberg has the entire field between himself and his team-mate after claiming his sixth pole of the year. Joining Rosberg on the front row will be home-favourite Max Verstappen, as the youngest Grand Prix winner is now the youngest front row starter.

Q1

For the first stage of qualifying at the Belgian Grand Prix, Romain Grosjean hit the track first to break the silence as he posted a 1:49.519. Grosjean’s time, though, was instantly demoted by his team-mate as Gutierrez edged the Frenchman by two-tenths of a second.

Gutierrez, however, carries a five-place grid penalty into qualifying as the Mexican was deemed to have impeded Wehrlein in the final practice session. With Esteban running slowly on the racing line out of Eau Rouge, while Pascal quickly reduced the gap between them.

Like Gutierrez, Hamilton carried a grid-penalty into qualifying and opted to only head out on a slow, early run in order to post a time within 107% of the pace setter.

The same could have been the plan of McLaren, with Fernando Alonso set to start tomorrow’s race alongside his 2007 team-mate. But as Fernando made his way out of the pits and up Eau Rouge, he was forced to park to the side of the track.

Fernando’s short qualifying also came after Honda noticed a data anomaly during FP3 but after checks opted to run the same engine in qualifying. Another engine change may enforce a pitlane start for Alonso, after already receiving a 35-place grid penalty for his Friday engine change.

Practice also showed drivers abusing track limits at turn four, with the FIA acting by clamping down on any driver who ran wide here in qualifying having their lap time deleted.

Come qualifying, the first driver to have their time deleted for track limits was Felipe Nasr. With the Brazilian running too far to the left of the white line at the top of Eau Rouge. With the illegal line giving drivers more speed down the Kemmel straight. Magnussen, too, had his first Q1 time deleted.

After topping the session early on, Wehrlein now found his benchmark time being demoted by the likes of Rosberg and the Ferrari’s. With FP3 pace setting Kimi Raikkonen edging Rosberg by one-tenth for second, with Vettel a further tenth up.

Meanwhile, both Haas’ improved for ninth place, with Gutierrez demoting Grosjean by three-thousandths of a second.

Other drivers too were pushing hard to snatch a Q2 slot with Hamilton and Alonso opening the door for two more. With Palmer moving up from 15th to 11th as the chequered flag fell to end the opening stage.

Palmer, however, was demoted by his team-mate as Magnussen set his first non-deleted lap time.

The star of Q1, though, was neither Renault finishing highly. As Pascal Wehrlein, who had sat P11 after his first run with a time 0.8 seconds up on his FP3 best, moving up to P8. Massa going fastest overall did push the Manor down to ninth.

On the other hand, Kvyat was unable to beat the drop. As the man who ended the Chinese Grand Prix on the podium was beaten by Esteban Ocon, a driver making his Formula One racing debut.

As for Ocon’s new team-mate, after replacing Haryanto who ran out of funding before the summer break, Wehrlein secured Manor’s fourth Q2 appearance in Belgium. With the Manor team reaching the second stage of qualifying in 2010, 2013 and 2014.

Q2

At the start of the second stage of qualifying, Wehrlein had left the pits. But without completing a lap, he was back in as he felt the tyre was loose.

As for Rosberg, Ricciardo and the Ferrari’s, they were all heading out for their first runs on the soft compound tyres. The thinking behind this came with the soft tyres expected to be the better race tyre – with the supersofts not holding up to the extreme heat presented.

Despite being on the harder compound, Rosberg’s first time – a 1:48.999 – was enough to edge the supersoft running Force India’s by three and four-tenths of a second.

As for Raikkonen on the softs, the Finn crossed the line six-tenths down on Rosberg. While Vettel ended his lap a further three-tenths down, one tenth up on Ricciardo. Verstappen, contrastingly on the supersoft tyres, edged in behind Rosberg by one-tenth.

Behind the leaders, and despite being on the slower tyres, a sizable gap was seen between Ricciardo (7th) and Gutierrez (8th). With Gutierrez and Button lingering 1.2-seconds back.

With Bottas and Massa going seventh and sixth on their first run with supersoft tyres, Ferrari reacted and sent their drivers back out on the red-marked tyres in fear of the drop. Ricciardo, meanwhile, remained in the garage while sat in ninth.

Button too was back out as the remaining McLaren improved by over a second to secure a top-1o place. Jenson predominantly found time in the middle sector, where he lapped over a second up on the cut off time.

Out of the remaining drivers aiming to beat the drop, Palmer, then Gutierrez and Grosjean all moved into 11th place. With Romain the closest to Button, three-tenths down.

Wehrlein had claimed P14 but fell to 16th with Magnussen taking P12 and Sainz 15th. And with no other drivers moving into the top 10, Ferrari pulled their drivers back into the pits.

Q3

The pole position shoot-out around the longest track on the F1 calendar began with Valtteri Bottas posting a 1:47.612. His time, though, was easily bettered by Perez, Hulkenberg, Vettel and Verstappen. With only Ricciardo lapping slower in the early stages.

But the man who topped the session as the track fell silent was Nico Rosberg, as the German aims to capitalise on his team-mate’s 35-place grid penalty.

Come the second runs to decide who will start the Belgian Grand Prix from pole, Massa hit the track for his first timed lap. But a lock-up at the first corner scuppered his run and he settled for the eighth – with only Raikkonen and Button behind, who were yet to set a time.

After a poor first run, Ricciardo improved massively to move up the leaderboard with a six-tenths a second gain for third.

Raikkonen, though, was flying in the middle and final sectors, setting personal best times as he pushed for the line. Taking the chequered flag in third, behind Verstappen and Rosberg.

Unable to improve, Verstappen’s first front row start in Formula One looked in danger. But when Vettel crossed the line for fourth, Max had his front row start and is set to become the youngest front row starter in F1 – and in front of what is effectively his home crowd.

In the end, Rosberg was unchallenged for pole as Ricciardo fell to fifth as the Ferrari’s improved. Now Nico heads into the race with the entire field between himself and his title rival team-mate, Hamilton.

Pos Driver Time Gap
1 Nico Rosberg 1’46.744
2 Max Verstappen 1’46.893 0.149
3 Kimi Raikkonen 1’46.910 0.166
4 Sebastian Vettel 1’47.108 0.364
5 Daniel Ricciardo 1’47.216 0.472
6 Sergio Perez 1’47.407 0.663
7 Nico Hulkenberg 1’47.543 0.799
8 Valtteri Bottas 1’47.612 0.868
9 Jenson Button 1’48.114 1.37
10 Felipe Massa 1’48.263 1.519
11 Romain Grosjean 1’48.316 1.572
12 Kevin Magnussen 1’48.485 1.741
13 Esteban Gutierrez 1’48.598 1.854
14 Jolyon Palmer 1’48.888 2.144
15 Carlos Sainz Jr. 1’49.038 2.294
16 Pascal Wehrlein 1’49.320 2.576
17 Felipe Nasr 1’48.949 2.205
18 Esteban Ocon 1’49.050 2.306
19 Daniil Kvyat 1’49.058 2.314
20 Marcus Ericsson 1’49.071 2.327
21 Lewis Hamilton 1’50.033 3.289
22 Fernando Alonso No time set  —