F1 Raceweek: Rain a pain for Ferrari as Hamilton mops up at Spa
Lewis Hamilton capitalised on a sudden change in the weather to grab pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix, increasing the possibility of him winning at Spa for a third time in four years.
The Mercedes driver was struggling to keep up with the Ferrari pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel before rain arrived early in Q3.
Following a switch to intermediate tyres, Hamilton again demonstrated his ability to drive in wet conditions, overcoming a brief detour off the track to go on and post the fastest lap time at the end of the eventful session.
His late charge showed the Brit - who is 24 points clear in the championship standings - has not lost his appetite for success during F1's mid-season break, even if he did need a little help from above to close the gap on the Ferraris.
Vettel had to settle for second place in the end, with the Racing Point Force India pair of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez surprisingly third and fourth respectively.
Raikkonen ended up sixth yet is still in a far better position than Valtteri Bottas, who will start the race from the back of the grid as a penalty for changing engines.
CHAOTIC FINISH CATCHES OUT FERRARI
Vettel was not too disappointed to secure a place on the front row, despite admitting both he and the team failed to react quickly enough once the rain arrived.
Ferrari had set the pace in both Q1 and Q2, only for showers to suddenly slow their progress, allowing the ever-alert Hamilton to seize his opportunity.
The German fell short in his attempt to squeeze above Hamilton on one final lap at the end of Q3, but, with the forecast saying it will be dry for the race, he remains hopeful of overhauling his title rival.
"Obviously it was a bit chaotic and not great from a management point of view, I think," Vettel said in the post-qualifying press conference.
"You don't know how much it's going to dry up and if there's more rain coming, but I don't feel we put everything together in the last lap.
"We ran out of battery and that was quite costly for nearly the whole lap and yeah, I just think it wasn't a nice ending to a great qualifying up to that point.
THE FORCE IS STRONG
After being rescued from administration, the renamed Racing Point Force India made an excellent start under their new owners, who are a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll.
Ocon and Perez may not know their long-term futures with the team - Stroll's son, Lance, has been strongly linked with a seat for 2019 - but they put a turbulent spell for the team behind them to turn in impressive performances in qualifying.
The team looked in danger of going out of business, but will be starting from the second row of the grid when the lights go out on Sunday.
"It's a great result for the team after all the issues we've had," Perez, who finished behind team-mate Ocon in fourth, told Sky Sports F1.
"To come back and do this result is amazing for the team. For all our partners and everyone involved, it's been a very tough couple of months. It was a chaotic qualifying session, but I'm very pleased."
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
3. Esteban Ocon (Force India)
4. Sergio Perez (Force India)
5. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
6. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
7. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
8. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
9. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
10. Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso)
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 213
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 189
3. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 146
4. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 132
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 118
1. Mercedes 345
2. Ferrari 335
3. Red Bull 223
4. Renault 82
5. Haas 66
2017: Lewis Hamilton
2016: Nico Rosberg
2015: Lewis Hamilton
As it stands, rain is not expected to throw a spanner in the works again on Sunday. Conditions are expected to be warmer than during qualifying, albeit there will be a gentle breeze during the race.