Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

Belgian GP: Charles Leclerc and Ferrari dominate Spa-Francorchamps qualifying

Italian team take one-two on grid as world championship leader Lewis Hamilton has to settle for third

Charles Leclerc was fastest in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix. Getty
Charles Leclerc was fastest in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix. Getty

It has been 15 races since Ferrari last won a Formula One grand prix, stretching back to October 2018 with Kimi Raikkonen at the United States Grand Prix.

That streak really should end on Sunday in Belgium, where Ferrari have been absolutely dominant so far this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps.

Charles Leclerc took his third pole position of the season with a lap of 1 minute, 42.519 seconds, 0.748 seconds quicker than teammate Sebastian Vettel - an enormous gap by F1 standards.

Even Leclerc was surprised by the extent of his advantage over Vettel and the rest of the field.

"It obviously feels amazing," he said post-qualifying. "It was very tricky, especially in Q3 I struggled quite a lot - the start of the lap was always very messy. But in the end I managed to do the rest of the lap OK. I did not expect to be that far ahead."

We have been here before this season with Ferrari, who have looked set to triumph on five occasions and yet have failed to execute a victory when it has been there for the taking.

Mechanical unreliability cost Leclerc in Bahrain when he was just laps from the finish while leading. He then crashed in qualifying in Azerbaijan when he was the fastest driver all weekend in Baku, ruining his race chances when he started down the order.

Vettel finished first in Canada, but was stripped of victory by race stewards due to a time penalty for an unsafe return to the track that had impeded Lewis Hamilton.

A tactical error in Austria left Leclerc with too long a final stint in the race and left him vulnerable to a late challenge from Max Verstappen that saw the Red Bull Racing driver overtake him three laps from the end.

In Germany, both Leclerc and Vettel suffered car failures in qualifying at a venue in Hockenheim where they had comfortably been fastest.

Mercedes-GP and Hamilton deserve to be at the top of the respective standings after the first 12 races of the 21-event season. They have been quick and consistent and have rarely made a mistake.

But Ferrari's haul of no wins while trailing 150 points in the constructors' championship to their German rival does not do them justice.

The SF90 chassis has five times this season been the class of the field yet the Italian marque have found different ways to bungle their chances.

It is almost certainly, barring some freak circumstances in the final nine races, too late for Ferrari to win either title. But that does not mean they cannot finish on a high, starting by ending their victory drought.

They should do that in Spa. Leclerc has been brilliant all weekend and he deserves to finally become a winner on Sunday.

His rookie season has had its inconsistencies and mistakes, but when it has mattered, like on Saturday, he has usually had the edge over Vettel.

He is 118 points behind Hamilton so a success on Sunday will not catapult him into title contention, likewise for Vettel who is 94 adrift.

Only more mechanical woe or driver mistakes can stop Ferrari prevailing on Sunday. The first and third sectors of the 7km track play to the strengths of their car, with Mercedes quicker in the twistier middle sector.

There is another factor in their favour: Hamilton does not need to win.

He is well clear of both Ferrari drivers, and he starts in third place, one spot ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas, who at 62 points is the nearest to him in the table.

If Hamilton takes third on Sunday, ahead of Bottas, it will be a solid weekend's work as he extends his lead to 65 points.

He will lose ground to Ferrari's drivers, but there are plenty of races ahead where Mercedes will again be the most rapid package.

Belgium is Ferrari's race to lose and after five missed chances it really should be sixth time lucky for them.

Updated: August 31, 2019 07:43 PM

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