Lewis Hamilton delighted with unexpected pole as title challenge gains in credibility
Mercedes driver once again edges out Vettel after Practice struggles
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 25/08/13 12:57pm
Lewis Hamilton has admitted he doesn't believe he could have taken pole position for the Belgian GP had track conditions remained dry at Spa - and that he might need more rain to win Sunday's race.
In a remarkable finale to an already-astonishing qualifying hour, Hamilton prevailed over World Champion Sebastian Vettel by two tenths of a second to claim his fourth successive pole position.
Despite the frequency of Mercedes' qualifying strength this term, it was nevertheless a largely unexpected result given that the Mercedes, suffering from acute understeer, had appeared to be a long way shy of Red Bull's pace throughout both Friday and Saturday's practice sessions.
But all that changed once the rain began to fall and Hamilton charged through the damp conditions to become the first Briton since Damon Hill to clinch a fourth successive pole in F1.
"The Red Bull was looking particularly quick, and so were the Ferraris in the dry conditions, so I'm not necessarily sure we had the pace to be as fast as everyone else today," Hamilton acknowledged.
Critically, Hamilton was the last driver to cross the line at the riveting conclusion of Q3, offering him just enough of an advantage on a drying track to trump Vettel.
"I think it was more luck than anything," Hamilton confessed to Sky Sports F1. "When it rains like that it is just a matter of being out at the right time. You try to get it right but a lot of luck comes into it - although the Red Bulls seem to do it all the time!
"I can't believe it. When I came over the line I didn't know where I was and looked at the screen and it looked like 'P1' and I thought 'surely not', but it was very cool when I found I was."
Fresh from his maiden win for Mercedes at Hungary, another victory for Hamilton this weekend would serve notice that he has the beating of Vettel to this year's World Championship, but his ambitions of back-to-back triumphs may yet prove dependent on more wet stuff falling from the skies.
"While we have a great package, I'm not overly confident about where we stand against the others. It's a strong package but it still feels as if we are playing catch-up," Hamilton added. "But you never know what might happen and the forecast for Sunday is for more rain which will make it more of a lottery."
Nonetheless, in what was supposed to be a bedding-in first season at Mercedes, Hamilton is fast emerging as a bona fide title contender, with his new team claiming victory in three of the last five races. The 2008 World Champion still trails Vettel by 48 points but is entitled to believe that his bombshell decision to leave McLaren for Mercedes has already been entirely vindicated.
"It is a huge accomplishment by the team," remarked Hamilton. "It feels like I am driving well and I want to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way."