Championship leader Lewis Hamilton took himself a step closer to realising his title ambitions by pipping Felipe Massa to pole in Spa-Francorchamps, but all eyes are now on three-time Spa winner Kimi Raikkonen who failed to muster the kind of career-resurrecting performance that was expected of him.
For a moment it looked as though Massa was the driver with everything to prove as he locked up at the end of a scruffy first flying lap. Raikkonen got the measure of his team-mate on his first run as a result, but behind the Ferrari pair Lewis Hamilton was setting a searing pace and promptly stole the top spot, with Heikki Kovalainen underlying McLaren’s intentions to out-fox Ferrari on home turf by going second.
The old Felipe would have succumbed to the pressure and the demand for absolute precision over the single lap, but not the man that has essentially won the last two races on performance terms if you omit his engine failure in Hungary.
The Brazilian responded to go quickest of all with a 1:47.678, but it wasn’t enough to stay ahead of Hamilton who was busy blitzing the undulating track with even greater rigour to take pole by just over two tenths of a second.
Massa’s effort was enough, though, to keep him ahead of Heikki Kovalainen which will be critical for Sunday’s race if Hamilton proves to be running a slightly lighter fuel load than his team-mate, as he as tended to do in the past few races.
Kimi Raikkonen once again seemed to be in the wilderness behind the wheel of his F2008. An untidy second lap once again cost him a front row starting position and he will line up fourth as rumours mount that Ferrari will have to begin to support Felipe Massa in his championship endeavour.
Lewis Hamilton meanwhile was delighted with his eleventh career pole position: “Today has been a great day for me,” he said. “I was so happy with all three laps I did in qualifying because it is always satisfying when you can do one lap and come back and watch everyone try and get their laps done.”
“Today the team made no mistakes and I made no mistakes, I had three great laps, four great laps, at the end of Q3. My first Q3 lap had a bit of a lock-up at turn one, same at the second one but I kept it together, and the rest of the lap I was very happy with.”
“I decided to stay with the harder tyre for Q2 and surprisingly the Option, the softer tyre, is quite a bit better. Everyone else was on Option and I was on Prime, so I was comfortable with the pace I had considering I was on that tyre.”
Nick Heidfeld, another driver under pressure to deliver a good result, lapped fifth quickest, out-qualifying team mate Robert Kubica for only the second time this season. The BMW Sauber pair line up in fifth and seventh respectively, with Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber taking sixth and seventh.
Both Toro Rosso drivers made it into the top ten for the second consecutive race with Sebastien Bourdais just pipping team mate Vettel for ninth and tenth.