Despite his recent run of qualifying success, and a first race win for Mercedes last time out in Hungary, Lewis Hamilton admitted that being told he had pole at Spa was particularly pleasing.
The Briton timed his run just right to claim top spot with the last lap of a topsy-turvy session that began in light drizzle, and then got wetter before beginning to dry out again. Force India's Paul di Resta initially appeared to have won the tactical battle by delaying his first run and benefiting from an empty circuit as he fitted intermediates, but his time was eclipsed in the final few minutes, with Hamilton coming out on top of both Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who had both set provisional pole times as they crossed the line ahead of him.
“I feel like I've been driving well for quite some time – it's just sometimes circumstances don't allow you to really show that,” the Briton insisted, “But I really feel that I'm getting everything out of the car, I'm getting everything out of every opportunity that I have. I know there's a lot of pressure for everyone but I feel in a good place.
“I can't remember the last time I crossed the line and had such a good feeling, particularly as I was looking for the TV screens... I could see the team was cheering so I couldn't believe that. It's just crazy to think that this is my 31st pole and it still feels like it's the first one. It's just an incredible feeling and I'm very grateful to be here today.”
Hamilton admitted that, as he ventured out on his final run on the 7km Spa circuit, he was not confident of being able to claim a fourth consecutive pole after similar success in Britain, Germany and Hungary.
“I was so surprised when I crossed the line,” he confessed, “When I started the lap, I saw on the screen that I was about seventh or eighth and I thought 'Oh my God', especially as it was raining more. I went wide in turn one and the dash display is usually telling you whether you're up or down and it said I was three seconds down and then five seconds and six seconds, so I didn't understand what was happening in the lap. But I just kept pushing.
“I feel quite comfortable in changing conditions and I feel I'm able to find the limits when the conditions are really on the edge. I pushed quite a lot in the middle sector particularly, as I thought I was down three seconds, so I was really caning it. I could see I was catching Sebastian towards the end, but what a blessing, I feel so fortunate to be up here.”
With both Red Bulls lining up immediately behind him on the grid, and Vettel having dominated practice on Friday and Saturday, however, Hamilton was not taking anything for granted ahead of the race, but paid tribute to the way Mercedes had turned its season around to put him into contention, not only for race wins, but also the title.
“I think this weekend, both [Vettel and Webber] have shown that they have incredible pace this weekend,” he acknowledged, “But I'm hoping that, whatever the conditions are tomorrow, we can try to fight it out with them.
“The guys have done a fantastic job in bringing a good package here. I feel we're quite close, [although] I still feel the Red Bull is generally a little bit ahead of us in performance. That's why results like this today feel even better because it feels like we extracted more than what the car can actually do.
“I'm trying to catch [Vettel] up. He's obviously had incredible success over the last few years, so I'm trying my best to battle with him and I hope that we can do that in the race tomorrow - whatever the conditions are. I just feel grateful for the way the year has turned out and that we can be so competitive and really try to challenge the Red Bulls. It's a huge accomplishment by the team.”