From the way the weekend began in Belgium, it seemed as if Lewis Hamilton seemed to be just a step behind the Ferraris and its upgraded power unit. However, qualifying No. 3 was a rain-filled session, and Hamilton was able to maneuver his Mercedes around a tricky, slick Spa-Francorchamps to an extremely quick 1.58.179-second final lap, just under eight tenths of a second up on second-place qualifier Sebastian Vettel.
The surprise of the session came from the team that was placed into administration before the summer break. The newly named Racing Point Force India team entered the weekend losing all of its 2018 points to date as a result of the ownership change but was able to unroll a fast pink panther. Esteban Ocon qualified in the top three for the first time in his career, with his teammate Sergio Perez set to line up in fourth. Romain Grosjean in the Haas also impressed his way to a fifth-place qualifying effort.
As the lights went green for qualifying three, mother nature took it as her opportunity to unleash the rain. Drops dampened the track before the teams even finished their first laps on super-soft tires. Valtteri Bottas had a spin on the final long straight of his out lap as the track was too wet, so all teams had to change tires and complete their laps on the intermediates. But even then, cars were struggling for grip, Daniel Ricciardo went off the track on his first timed lap, and Hamilton went off on his second timed-lap. It was clear early on that this was not going to be typical qualifying and some of the mid-field cars would have a shot at a fast lap, and that is just what we saw from Force India and Haas.
Kimi Raikkonen had dominated the first two qualifying sessions on a dry track, but an unknown problem stopped the Iceman from participating in the final two-minutes of Q3 when the track had begun drying out and creating faster lap times. Both Red Bull drivers, Max Verstappen and Ricciardo, had minor 0ff-track excursions on their final laps, and the two had to settle for seventh and eighth, respectively.
Kevin Magnussen was the last of the final group of drivers to set a time in the Haas, as he will roll off ninth. Bottas in the Mercedes did not set a time in Q3, as a power unit change means that he will have to start in the back no matter what, so after his spin, the team decided to save the car from a wet and wild Q3.
The teams ran on a dry track for the beginning for qualifying two. The clouds darkened the track with about six minutes to go in the session, but the rain stayed away for the session as Toro Rosso drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendan Hartley were the first two eliminated; they qualified 11th and 12th, respectively. The Sauber teammates settled for 13th and 14th, led by Charles Leclerc over Marcus Ericsson. Nico Hulkenberg and Renault decided to save their car and did not set a time in qualifying two as Hulkenberg will have to start from the back anyway with a power unit change.
The first group eliminated in qualifying one was led by Carlos Sainz, who joined his future team in the bottom five as Fernando Alonso in the McLaren qualified 17th. The two Williams of Sirotkin and Stroll finished 18th and 19th, with Stoffel Vandoorne doing no better than 20th in his home grand prix, which has also come with a lot of speculation over Vandoorne’s future with McLaren.
Lights out for the Belgium Grand Prix is set for a little bit after 9 a.m. ET.