Charles Leclerc pulled out a sensational performance to beat teammate Sebastian Vettel by three quarters of a second as Ferrari locked out the front row at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Ferrari was first and second in all three practice sessions but looked under some pressure from Mercedes in qualifying, with Lewis Hamilton a threat despite his crash in FP3. But the pressure was all on Vettel as Leclerc topped all three parts of the qualifying session, dominating Q3.
Leclerc’s time of 1m42.519s was in a league of its own as Vettel struggled to get his lap together, leaving him 0.75s clear of his teammate. Vettel needed his final attempt to jump Hamilton and secure second spot, beating the lead Mercedes by just 0.015s.
Hamilton’s recovery was a strong one after a crash in FP3 left Mercedes with a race against time to prepare his car for qualifying. It wasn’t ready for the start of Q1 but Hamilton managed to get out on track after a red flag period and duly beat Valtteri Bottas by a little over 0.1s.
Max Verstappen will start from fifth place after posting a 1m43.690s, and he was ahead of the two Renaults but both Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg will take five-place grid penalties from sixth and seventh respectively. That will promote Kimi Raikkonen who was eighth in qualifying, as well as Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen who ended up ninth and 10th.
Q2 was a fight between just 12 drivers for a place in the top 10, as Antonio Giovinazzi didn’t take part following a power unit failure in Q1, and Lance Stroll and Alexander Albon both carried out one run before ending their sessions 13th and 14th respectively due to grid penalties.
A somewhat surprising elimination was Lando Norris, who dropped out in 12th place. Although McLaren had not looked competitive over one lap all weekend, it still marked the first time the team did not have a car in Q3 since the Spanish Grand Prix. Romain Grosjean also dropped out in 11th place, just 0.059s slower than his teammate Magnussen at the flag.
There were two red flags that interrupted Q1, the second of which brought a premature end to the session. First, Robert Kubica had to stop on the run to the Bus Stop at the end of the lap when the new specification Mercedes power unit in his Williams appeared to let go spectacularly. After leaving a trail of smoke, Kubica’s car caught fire as he climbed out in much the same manner Perez’s had on Friday afternoon.
That delay came just four minutes into the session and caused an 11-minute delay that gave Mercedes further time to prepare Hamilton’s car. Then with just one minute remaining, Giovinazzi pulled to the side of the track with a similar issue to Kubica. Although there was less smoke, Giovinazzi suffered a failure exiting La Source and stopped on the run to Eau Rouge with fire also emerging from his exhaust, resulting in the session ending early.
Only Verstappen had completed his final lap at that time — needing to get one in early after a power unit concern early in the session — and the red flag meant Pierre Gasly dropped out on his return to Toro Rosso, while it also caught out Carlos Sainz. Daniil Kvyat was a less surprising casualty as he has a power unit penalty that will force him to start from the back of the grid, while George Russell and Kubica were also eliminated.