Lewis Hamilton has stolen his fifth pole position of the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship campaign, after getting the better of chief title competitor Felipe Massa in a tense qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend.

With rain as ever hanging in the air in the Ardennes region, Nelsinho Piquet - the only driver in the field with the unenviable record of having been out-qualified by his team-mate on every single occasion thus far in 2008 - was the first man to take to the track at the start of Q1, as had been the case in Valencia a fortnight earlier, with Force India duo Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil, and Williams' Kazuki Nakajima next to follow.

Massa and F1 World Championship leader Hamilton were the first of the big-hitters to show their hand, though the latter was complaining of a vibration in his McLaren-Mercedes - even if it did not prevent him from obliterating his Ferrari rival's opening effort by almost a full eight tenths of a second.

Heikki Kovalainen was some seven tenths adrift in the sister MP4-23 - albeit still quicker than Massa - with defending world champion Kimi Raikkonen slotting in behind the trio, and Sebastian Vettel again showing strongly well up the order in his Scuderia Toro Rosso, building on the fifth-fastest time he had produced in the morning practice session.

Jarno Trulli then impressively went quickest of anyone in the middle sector en route to P5 on his first run, demoting Vettel to sixth, with fellow STR ace S?bastien Bourdais narrowly behind in seventh.

BMW-Sauber were next to make their move, with Robert Kubica placing his F1.08 fifth and Nick Heidfeld popping up just a tenth of a second and two places further in arrears. That left the Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, Sutil and more surprisingly the two Williams' of Nakajima and Nico Rosberg in the danger zone.

Raikkonen then suddenly found some form to close to within eight hundredths of Hamilton's initial effort, whilst a significant improvement from Rosberg - vaulting the young German up into the top ten - pushed Fisichella, who had suffered an 'off' during FP3, back into the drop area.

A stellar lap from Sutil, meanwhile - the 25-year-old quite literally wringing the neck of his Force India around what is widely acknowledged as being the greatest drivers' track of them all - demoted qualifying specialist Mark Webber down to 16th place by a scant three hundredths of a second, as David Coulthard leapt up to fifth in the sister Red Bull Racing.

Kovalainen was the next man on the move, going fastest of all in sector one on his way to pipping team-mate Hamilton by less than a tenth of a second with just under five minutes remaining. As the clock ticked down, fourth-placed Massa clearly felt he was under some pressure as he ventured out once more, the Brazilian narrowly failing to beat Kovalainen's time as he improved to second.

The increasingly impressive Sutil then found more time still to go 14th ahead of Toyota's Timo Glock, but team-mate Fisichella found Massa in his way on his final effort, consequently missing the Q2 cut by just over two tenths of a second.

Glock hauled himself up to safety in seventh, with Webber joining him in eighth, former double world champion Fernando Alonso displacing the Australian in short succession, Piquet and Coulthard stunning everyone by setting the fifth and sixth-quickest times and then - out of nowhere - Bourdais leaping to the top of the timing screens in his Toro Rosso, to the obvious delight of the elated Frenchman, who has found it difficult for much of 2008 to get to grips with life in the top flight.

That left the struggling Hondas of Barrichello and Button, the Force India pairing of Sutil and the disappointed Fisichella and the off-form Nakajima out of play at the end of the session, as Bourdais led the way ahead of Kovalainen, Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Piquet, Kubica, Coulthard, Vettel and Alonso.

Raikkonen was unusually the first man onto the circuit in Q2, followed by Q1 star Bourdais, with the former going on to set the fastest lap of the weekend to-date. Kovalainen then went and destroyed that effort by almost three tenths of a second, with Hamilton five hundredths behind his team-mate.

Alonso, Vettel and Piquet sat fourth, fifth and sixth five minutes in, with the BMWs as ever leaving their first runs until late. Rain then began to fall out the back side of the circuit - with Trulli, Coulthard, Rosberg, Heidfeld and Kubica all sitting in the drop.

Kubica was the first man to jump to safety - improving to sixth, though only putting himself inside the top ten by two tenths - before Heidfeld hauled himself up to fourth, half a second faster than his team-mate as the experienced German sought to put his 2008 qualifying travails firmly behind him around one of his favourite circuits.

That pushed Glock and Webber into danger alongside their respective Toyota and RBR team-mates and Rosberg, whose undoubted talent behind the wheel seemed unable to hoist his Williams up into the top ten even here.

As the close of the session dawned and the tension mounted, all bar the two McLarens and Ferraris headed out on-track again for a final run - and the midfield times began to tumble.

Vettel was the first of them to move up the order, putting his Ferrari-powered STR3 seventh, before team-mate Bourdais stole the position, with Alonso and Webber similarly late improvers to narrowly secure their spots in the final shoot-out as both Toyotas - which have struggled with Spa's colder track temperatures, and a lack of Friday track time for Trulli as a result of a technical problem - Piquet, Coulthard and Rosberg all missed the cut.

Up at the sharp end, meanwhile, McLaren once more out-paced principal title rivals Ferrari at the chequered flag, with Kovalainen atop the timing screens from team-mate Hamilton, Raikkonen - who was nonetheless able to carry immense speed through the demanding Pouhon corner, some 10km/h quicker than either of the two Silver Arrows - Heidfeld, Massa, Alonso, Kubica, Bourdais, Vettel and Webber.

Ferrari were again out early in Q3 - though this time in the form of Massa, who went far too deep into the final chicane on his first lap with race fuel on-board. Hamilton was rapidly four tenths quicker, before Raikkonen beat both of them and then Hamilton took a further half a second off the ever-moving target.

Kovalainen slotted in a tenth behind his McLaren team-mate in P2, with Heidfeld splitting the Ferraris of Raikkonen and Massa - and four spots ahead of the fellow BMW of Kubica - as the Scuderia suddenly looked all at sea.

Vettel - planning to run a long first stint - went out for only the second run of Q3, as the pressure mounted on Ferrari, with neither driver within half a second of the McLaren pairing...and the showdown fast approaching.

Fifth-placed Massa was the first man to begin his flying attempt following a very slow 'out' lap, and the European Grand Prix winner was more than a tenth up on Hamilton after the first split. The Briton then went faster still, with Massa keeping up the pressure in sector two as the two men went at it absolutely hammer-and-tongs around the challenging Ardennes circuit.

Though Massa's time was enough to topple Hamilton's previous best, the Stevenage-born ace wasn't done yet, and a scintillating middle sector paved the way for a lap that was more than three tenths of a second clear of that of his main title threat, firmly sealing the deal.

Kovalainen did his job too in prevailing in the battle of both the Finns and the 'number twos' by pipping Raikkonen to P3 with his final effort, despite a somewhat scrappy end to the lap, with Heidfeld winding up a strong fifth ahead of Alonso, the similarly-powered Webber, Kubica and the STR duo of Bourdais and Vettel.

To see the qualifying times in full, click here