Charles Leclerc secures pole in Belgium
After a season of disappointments and consistently playing catchup to Mercedes, for Ferrari there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.
Charles Leclerc drove brilliantly to earn pole position for the third time in his fledgling career, with teammate Sebastian Vettel qualifying in second to secure a front row lockout for the Italian manufacturer in Belgium.
The young Monegasque driver was streets ahead of the competition, finishing more than seven-tenths of a second ahead of Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in third.
Ferrari is without a Grand Prix win in the 12 races so far this season — with a totally dominant Mercedes winning 10 of those — and it has been the Red Bull of Max Verstappen that has provided Mercedes’ biggest challenge in recent weeks.
“It felt good, the first sector wasn’t quite what we wanted, but from the second corner onwards we were very strong and it felt amazing,” Leclerc told Sky Sports. “We need to work on our race pace a bit, but I think we should be strong tomorrow.”
Despite Ferrari’s success, more questions are likely to be asked of Vettel’s performance and how the four-time world champion finished so far behind his junior teammate.
It has now been more than a year since the German won a race, coming this time last season at Spa, though despite admitting his final qualifying laps were a “mess” he still pipped Hamilton to second place by just 0.015 seconds.
It was a chaotic qualifying session that saw drivers queuing up to start their flying laps and at one stage, Hamilton had to brake sharply to avoid swerving into the back of teammate Valtteri Bottas.
“In the end it’s good we secured the first row,” Vettel told Sky Sports. “I was in the queue which doesn’t help but no excuses, we look forward to the race tomorrow and we have good pace in the car — it was much better today.”
That Hamilton was even able to compete on Saturday was a miracle in itself, after a big crash in the final practice session left his car heavily damaged and in need of serious repairs.
The Brit paid tribute to the team in his garage that managed to get his car race ready so quickly.
“FP3 (third practice) was a terrible session for me and of course it’s painful because you know how many worked to build those parts and who many people put the car together,” Hamilton told Sky Sports.
“But my guys back in the garage are faultless, always give 100% and I’m so grateful to them for getting me back out here. I was trying to pay them back with a good qualifying session,” he said.
He added: “Ferrari have done a great job today but I hope we can bring the fight to them tomorrow.”
It’s the second time this season Ferrari has had a front row lockout; in Bahrain, Leclerc was denied certain victory when his car lost power with just a few laps remaining.
The 21-year-old will be hoping the third time is the charm as he bids for a first-ever Grand Prix win in Formula One.