Rosberg beats Hamilton to pole
Nico Rosberg heaped yet more qualifying frustration on Lewis Hamilton by beating his title rival to pole position in a tense wet qualifying hour at the Belgian GP.
For the seventh race in a row the World Championship leader will start ahead of his Mercedes team-mate and sole rival for the drivers' title on the grid with Hamilton coming up short in Q3 at Spa despite setting the practice pace on Friday - for the sixth straight weekend - and then heading the Q2 timesheet in the kind of slippery track conditions in which he traditionally excels.
Yet, while his previous two Saturday defeats to Rosberg could be put down to rank bad luck as mechanical problems intervened, on this occasion Hamilton was beaten in a more equal duel as the Briton put himself on the backfoot at the start of Q3 with a mistake at La Source and his German team-mate claimed provisional pole. Hamilton, however, later cited a 'glazed front-left brake disc' for his braking problems.
Having run slightly wide under braking for the first corner on his first hot lap of the final phase, Hamilton was up against it from there and although the 29-year-old did settle himself to take the fight to his team-mate, a lock-up at Stavelot on his final lap proved critical and Rosberg's 2:05.591 lap was enough to secure him his fourth consecutive pole by 0.2 seconds.
"I had a glazed front-left brake disc which meant the car was pulling to the right and there was nothing l could do on the out-laps about it," Hamilton explained afterwards. "I was struggling in the braking zone and losing massive amounts –particularly in Turn One."
The significant solace for Hamilton at least was that with Mercedes a league of their own in the wet - Red Bull and Ferrari lapped a massive two seconds slower around the mammoth 7km lap - he still ended up comfortably alongside his team-mate on the front-row to secure his highest starting berth since June's Canadian GP, some five races ago.
Unusually, given rain is usually considered the greatest of levellers in F1, runaway championship leaders Mercedes were completely untroubled by their rivals in the rest, leaving the leading members of the supporting cast to fight for 'best of the rest' honours.
Despite missing all of Friday afternoon's running, it was World Champion Sebastian Vettel who slightly surprisingly claimed third in the lead Red Bull, the German just holding off old rival Fernando Alonso who capped his strong form throughout the weekend so far with fourth - his and Ferrari's joint-best grid slot of the season.
Hungarian GP victor Daniel Ricciardo had to settle for fifth after running wide on the exit of Blanchimont on his final effort and he will share row three with the lead Williams of Valtteri Bottas.
McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen evened up his intra-team qualifying duel with Jenson Button – who took tenth – by securing seventh ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Williams' Felipe Massa.
For the third time in the last four races, Marussia's highly-rated Jules Bianchi made it into the rarified air of Q2, the Frenchman's latest escape act coming at the expense of Q3 regular Nico Hulkenberg – who failed to clear the first hurdle for the first time in two years.
Meanwhile, at backmarkers Caterham, sportscar veteran Andre Lotterer justified his sudden promotion to an F1 race seat by outqualifying Marcus Ericsson at the first attempt – and, most remarkably of all, by a full second .
Having explained their decision to drop Kamui Kobayashi for Lotterer for this weekend by citing the 32-year-old&'s experience in mixed conditions, the German showed his worth in the rain – despite not having driven an F1 car for 12 years before Friday – while at the same time ratcheting up the scrutiny on the performances of Swedish rookie Ericsson.
While finishing the 44-lap distance will now be Lotterer's main objective on Sunday, for Rosberg a seventh pole of the season gives him the perfect platform from which to mount a bid for a maiden win at Spa, one of F1's most prestigious races.
"I have a really good chance tomorrow," he acknowledged. "I need a good start and from there I am looking forward to it."
But then, again, last time out in Hungary most in the paddock thought a lights-to-flag victory was nailed on for the World Championship leader - and on that occasion Hamilton was starting from the pitlane and yet still ended up finishing in front. And with Spa's notoriously fickle weather gods already having demonstrated their liking for unpredictable conditions on Saturday, nothing can be taken for granted by anybody.
Sunday's race starts at 1pm, with Sky F1's coverage underway at 11.30am.