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 Sébastien 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.