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Belgian Grand Prix 2017: What we learned from qualifying

After four weeks of relative quiet, our first look at a session that counted for something is over.

  1. 1 Lewis Hamilton is loudly cementing his place among the greats

    Lewis Hamilton's final effort was incredible. To match Schumacher's pole record with a lap as perfect as that was simply special - and not due to Mercedes' dominance over the rest of the field. This was Hamilton at his best, charging through the line flawlessly, finding fractions of time where few else can. While the argument could be made over the past three years his car was doing the heavy lifting, that's not a viewpoint that could not be supported here. Each of Hamilton's pole positions have been well and truly down to his racecraft, none more so than today. To watch an obviously emotional driver receive a message of congratulations from the family of the man he matched was part of what makes F1 a tight-knit community. It was another accolade in a season with several of them; something Hamilton deserves. 

  2. 2 Mercedes' hegemony is over

    At various points during the season, it has looked like Ferrari had the measure of the Silver Arrows, but always at higher-downforce, slower circuits. When it came to fast tracks, like Silverstone, Mercedes' drivers were able to pull away over a lap. Not so at Spa-Francorchamps. Though a similarly fast track, Ferrari had their measure in every session.

    Qualifying drew the gap slightly - after practice sessions with virtually no difference between the teams - and that was plainly due to Lewis Hamilton's qualifying brilliance. Ferrari came into this season having made tremendous gains over the winter and, without F1's ridiculous token system in place (heaved into the trash bin for this year) to hold them back, they have not stopped upgrading since. So, while the top two teams still enjoy a sizable margin over the remainder of the field, the fight at the top now seems to be full-on for the remainder of the calendar with little to separate the two guys finally getting to fight it out for a title. 

  3. 3 The McLaren chassis is championship calibre

    Fernando Alonso's angry Q3 radio message summed up McLaren's partnership with Honda perfectly: no power! Much like 2016 and 2015, the Woking team have put forth a worthy challenger only to be let down by the power unit. The twilight of his career already here, Alonso is undoubtedly feeling a heightened sense of the same frustration all F1 fans feel when looking at his talent and underwhelming career trajectory. 

    The team pulled a highly-effective strategy of using Stoffel Vandoorne's grid-penalty-assured car to drag their other qualifier through the power unit-intensive first sector only to watch what the potential of the chassis wasted over the final two. What else can be said? It is just the latest example of Alonso's, and also Vandoorne's, talent squeezing the maximum out of the capable chassis just to be let down by the power unit. 

  4. 4 Jolyon Palmer, Q3 challenger?

    In what has to be considered the surprise of the day, Jolyon Palmer ran his Renault in P7 in perfect, dry conditions. There was no absence of other cars or drivers or any other mitigating factor to influence the result; he well and truly (finally!) showed the talent he was hired for. If I had not watched the result unfold live, I wouldn't have believed it. No driver on the grid has been more justifiably lambasted for his lack of results (not to be confused with Daniil Kvyat's genuinely poor driving) than Palmer. In two seasons with a semi-decent and rapidly-strengthening Renault, he has next to nothing to show for it and has fallen behind his teammate at every opportunity. Saturday looked to be his first correcting statement before a late gearbox failure utterly robbed him of that chance. Starting the race in the top ten will allow him one more shot at significant results this weekend. If he shows the form he showed today, there are reasons to be optimistic.

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Tommy Wharton

A Dad of three living on the Canadian West Coast with a sick desire to get up at 4 am to watch Formula 1. On Twitter @mrTommysalami

Belgian Grand Prix 2017: What we learned from qualifying

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