Lewis Hamilton has stated that McLaren-Mercedes knew it needed to raise its game in the wake of two consecutive races in which arch-rivals Ferrari had yielded the upper hand – and in storming to pole position for this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, he showed that the team has been every bit as good as its word.
Whilst the scarlet machines were expected to once again rule the roost around the challenging and popular Ardennes circuit, it was the Silver Arrows who emerged ahead in the opening two phases of qualifying, though it was Heikki Kovalainen who had the measure of his Formula 1 world championship-leading team-mate in both Q1 and Q2.
Hamilton, though – as is so often the case – was right on-form when it mattered most, as he blitzed the field on his very last lap in Q3, accepting the gauntlet thrown down to him by Ferrari title rival Felipe Massa and lowering the Brazilian's marker by more than three tenths of a second to put pole position beyond reach – and firmly stake his claim to regain momentum in the chase for the crown.
“I'm really happy about my pole position,” the 23-year-old enthused afterwards. “We've got a great car, and the atmosphere within the team at home in Woking and here at the circuit is fantastic.
“After Valencia we knew we had to improve – and that's what we did. Today's outcome is also a result of this great preparation, and I felt very comfortable when we came here.
“At first, I decided to drive with the harder compound, but obviously the option tyre was the better one. Today I gave it my all and so did the team. At the beginning of my first lap, I locked up my right front wheel for a moment, but afterwards I didn't make any mistakes. I'm confident for tomorrow's race.”
Kovalainen, though unable to live with Hamilton's pace in the final part of qualifying as the 26-year-old ran on a heavier fuel load, nevertheless secured national honour as he triumphed in the second row battle of the Finns with countryman Kimi Raikkonen to wind up P3 – even if he confessed to being a touch disappointed at not having been able to find the extra 0.137s needed to displace Massa from the front row.
“A good weekend so far,” the Hungarian Grand Prix winner affirmed, “and we were able to improve throughout. Today's qualifying was fairly straightforward; however, in the end, I didn't quite do enough to make it onto the front row.
“I didn't make any mistakes on my lap, but obviously I lost a bit of time in the middle sector. Anyway, tomorrow is where it counts and I'm feeling optimistic.”