(Reuters) – Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton roared to an emotional Belgian Grand Prix pole position on Saturday after being moved to produce a dominant display in qualifying at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
The Briton, who was fastest in each of the three parts of qualifying, went into the hour-long session with news of the death from cancer of film star Chadwick Boseman weighing on his mind.
He responded by pulling out a one minute, 41.252-second lap, the fastest ever around the undulating seven-kilometre track, in a cool, overcast but dry session.
Valtteri Bottas edged out third-placed Max Verstappen to complete a front-row lockout for Mercedes but even his Finnish team mate’s best effort was a whopping 0.511 seconds short of the world champion’s inspired benchmark.
“A superhero died last night,” said Hamilton, a champion of diversity and racial equality, while dedicating his 93rd career pole to Boseman, the actor best known for playing Black Panther in the successful Marvel franchise.
“I was so driven to deliver a good performance today so I could dedicate it to Chad who I was really, really lucky to meet once and tell him how awesome he was,” added the Briton, who earned his fifth pole from seven races this season.
Hamilton has won four of this season’s six races and leads Red Bull’s Verstappen by 37 points in the overall standings.
Bottas, third in the standings 43 points behind Hamilton, was at a loss to explain his gap to his team mate.
“It really felt like I was pushing the limits,” said the Finn, who needs to start turning the tide if he is stop Hamilton’s march to a record-equalling seventh title.
“But obviously quite a big gap, not sure yet why, but Lewis did a good job today.”
Verstappen, who had ended Friday’s practice sessions with the fastest time, had to settle for best-of-the-rest again but was pleased with his performance, even if a little frustrated to have run out of battery power before the end of the lap.
“If I’m not mistaken, this is the closest we’ve been to Mercedes in qualifying on a track where we didn’t expect to be like this,” said the 22-year-old Dutchman, who was just 0.015 slower than Bottas.
“It’s been a positive weekend.”
Ferrari endured a miserable day as both Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel failed to make it into the pole-position shootout.
Leclerc, who won his maiden Formula One race from pole position in Belgium last year, was only 13th, one place ahead of four-time champion Vettel.
Daniel Ricciardo took fourth for Renault, the French team carrying its strong practice form into qualifying.
Alexander Albon, in the other Red Bull, was fifth ahead of Ricciardo’s team mate Esteban Ocon.
Carlos Sainz was seventh for McLaren, ahead of Racing Point duo Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, while Lando Norris rounded out the top 10 for McLaren.
Hamilton heads into Sunday’s as favourite to chalk up an 89th career win which would put him just two short of Michael Schumacher’s record tally of 91.
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; Editing by Ian Chadband)