Nico Rosberg is well placed to claw back significant ground on penalised leader Lewis Hamilton in the Formula 1 World Championship standings after claiming pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps.
With Hamilton guaranteed to start towards the back of the grid after a raft of engine changes this weekend, Rosberg – 19 points behind in the overall standings – duly took full advantage by rebuffing a determined challenge from Red Bull and Ferrari for his sixth pole position of the year.
Indeed, though Mercedes would again emerge on top it was a closer-than-usual affair for Rosberg, the German's first flying effort of 1min 46.744s enough to secure pole position, but by little more than a tenth from second place Verstappen.
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Cheered on by the large Dutch contingent travelling to Spa this weekend, Verstappen bounced back from missing FP3 by taking the fight to Rosberg, his run to the front row at his adopted 'home' race marking his best qualifying performance in F1 yet.
Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel made it an all-Ferrari second row after squeezing between Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo in third and fourth, the Australian unable to recover ground lost by a mistake at La Source on his final flyer.
Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg maintained Force India's strong form with sixth and seventh on the grid, the Silverstone-based team presented with a good opportunity to close the gap on Williams for fourth in the constructors' standings after Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa could only manage eighth and tenth, split by Jenson Button in the McLaren-Honda.
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In a tightly-contested Q2 session there were predictions that Manor or Haas could make Q3 for the first time but neither could make it count when it mattered in the closing stages.
This was of particular disappointment for Pascal Wehrlein who, having been eighth in Q1, struggled on his final flyer to leave him 16th on the grid.
Ahead of him Romain Grosjean starts 11th, sharing row six with Kevin Magnussen as Renault enjoyed its best qualifying session of the year, Jolyon Palmer consolidating the Dane's efforts in 14th behind the second Haas of Esteban Gutierrez. Carlos Sainz starts 15th as Toro Rosso continue to struggle at Spa this weekend.
As expected, Hamilton completed a single lap in Q1 to ensure he met the 107 per cent requirement before sitting out the rest of the session to conserve his engine in readiness for a race in which he was already certain to start at the back of the grid.
Also facing a raft of penalties ahead of the race, Fernando Alonso attempted to make it out in qualifying only for his McLaren-Honda to grind to a halt at the top of Eau Rouge. The Spaniard already had 30 positions worth of grid penalties (compared with Hamilton's 55) but could face more.
Despite showing encouraging practice pace, Sauber failed to crack Q2, with Felipe Nasr 17th – having had his first time deleted for track limits abuse – and Marcus Ericsson 20th, though the Swede is another destined for engine related penalties.
Esteban Ocon will start his first F1 race from 18th place in the Manor, ahead of Daniil Kvyat, the Russian's dismal form in the Toro Rosso compounded by another disappointing afternoon that leaves him 19th. It means, without Hamilton and Alonso's issues, Kvyat would have been starting on the back row on pure pace alone.
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