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Leclerc claims pole as Ferrari lock out front row

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fastest in qualifying session at Spa-Francorchamps © AFP / JOHN THYS

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, Aug 31Charles Leclerc claimed pole position for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix with a dazzling lap in a dramatic qualifying session on Saturday as Ferrari delivered a dominant front row lockout.

The Monegasque, who was quickest in two of the three practice sessions and is seeking his maiden victory in Formula One, clocked a fastest lap in one minute 42.519 seconds. He was 0.748sec clear of his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

It was his third pole of the season after successes in Bahrain and Austria, but he goes into the race seeking to claim his maiden victory, having been left frustrated at both previous races.

It was Ferrari’s first lockout since the Bahrain Grand Prix in March and the 63rd in the team’s F1 history, one fewer than Mercedes.

Defending five-time world champion and series leader Lewis Hamilton was third for Mercedes ahead of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen, who was fifth for Red Bull, and Daniel Ricciardo of Renault.

“That felt good,” said Leclerc. We were struggling a little bit more for race pace and we need to work on that, but I am sure we will be strong.”

Vettel was left frustrated by traffic on his final run. “At the end, it’s good we secured the front row, but to fight for pole I was in the queue!”

Referring to his big crash in final practice in the morning, Hamilton said: “P3 was a terrible session for me and it’s painful because I know how much it takes to build the part and put the car together.

“Ferrari have done a great job and I hope we can bring the fight to them.”

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Nico Hulkenberg was seventh in the second Renault ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo, Sergio Perez of Racing Point and Kevin Magnussen of Haas.

Hamilton has won eight of this year’s 12 races to date to lead Bottas by 62 points in the championship.

– ‘Flames pluming’ –

On a near-perfect day in the Ardennes forests, the air temperature was 31 degrees centigrade and the track 42 as the session began, the session was halted after five minutes when Robert Kubica pulled up with flames pluming from the rear of his Williams as another new Mercedes power-unit failure.

It was the second stoppage of the day following Hamilton’s crash in third practice, an accident that resulted in high-speed repairs on his Mercedes as it was fitted with new front wheels, a new nose, bargeboards and floor.

The session resumed after 10 minutes, with Hamilton immediately back in action courtesy of the unexpected extra time.

He responded with a fast lap. That was, topped immediately by Bottas and then the two Ferraris.

Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas locked up the second row in the Belgian Grand Prix © AFP / Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD

Q1 ended when Antonio Giovinazzi pulled up in his Alfa Romeo at the exit of La Source, preventing any late laps and condemning Carlos Sainz to elimination in 17th between the two Toro Rossos of Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat. The two Williams were last, with George Russell in 19th and Kubica 20th.

After another delay, Q2 began with everyone on softs and Hamilton setting the early pace before Leclerc and Vettel took overs.

Romain Grosjean of Haas, Lando Norris of McLaren, Lance Stroll of Racing Point, Red Bull new boy Alex Albon and Giovinazzi were all eliminated, the last two without managing further laps.

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The Q3 shootout began with Ricciardo first out ahead of a curious bunching of the top drivers as they jockeyed for best ‘hot lap’ positions, Hamilton braking hard to avoid hitting his team-mate.

“This is affecting the out lap,” he said. “Ridiculous.”

On their first runs, Leclerc took advantage with a best lap in 1min 42.644sec to go six-tenths clear of Hamilton with Vettel two-tenths back in third ahead of Bottas.

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