Lewis Hamilton celebrates after claiming pole position on Saturday. Pic/AFP
Lewis Hamilton equalled the legendary Michael Schumacher's record haul of 68 pole positions, seizing the top spot with a mighty lap in qualifying on Saturday for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The Briton lapped the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in one minute 42.553 seconds, the fastest-ever around the 7-kilometer long circuit, beating his Ferrari championship rival Sebastian Vettel by 0.242 seconds.
His Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was third, over half a second slower than Hamilton's benchmark.
"They want to congratulate you on equalling Michael's record, and as Michael always said — records are there to be beaten," Ross Brawn Schumacher's friend, former team-boss and technical director, said to Hamilton, passing on a congratulatory message from the seven-time champion's family.
"It is special," Hamilton said. "To hear the message that Ross just gave I have to say a big thank you.
"I think and pray for Michael all the time. I've had the privilege of racing with him and always admired him and still to do."
Hamilton's record-equalling feat, which was also his seventh pole this season, comes at the same Spa-Francorchamps venue where Schumacher made his debut in 1991 and claimed his maiden Formula One win 25 years ago.
The German's son Mick is set to drive his 1994 championship-winning Benetton around the track before today's race to mark the occasion.
Hamilton trails Vettel by 14 points in the standings with nine races to go. He hasn't held the outright lead in the championship so far this season.
The Belgian Grand Prix marks the start of the second half of the season after the sport's annual summer break and the Briton on Thursday told reporters he was out for "blood" and hungrier than ever to win.
The fast sweeps and long straights of the Spa track play to the strengths of Hamilton's Mercedes but Ferrari appeared to be the team to beat going into qualifying after topping the final practice session.
However, their challenge faded with Hamilton imperious during the qualifying hour. Vettel had help from team-mate Raikkonen in splitting the Mercedes.
"Kimi had to abort his lap and he was very generous, giving me a nice tow in the last sector," said Vettel, fresh from signing a new three-year deal with Ferrari which was announced just before qualifying.
"That helped. The pace has been good this weekend, I think, less for one lap, more so for long runs so let's see what we can do tomorrow."
Raikkonen, who also signed a one-year extension to his contract earlier this week, had led Ferrari's challenge until the very end of qualifying. Forced to abort his lap, he starts fourth.
Crowd favourite Dutchman Max Verstappen will start what is effectively a home race for him in fifth alongside Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in sixth.
Nico Hulkenberg was seventh for Renault ahead of the Force India pair of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. The German's team-mate Jolyon Palmer was tenth after being sidelined with an engine problem in the final phase of the three-part qualifying session.
McLaren's Belgian rookie Stoffel Vandoorne qualified 15th for his first home race but will start from the back due to a 65-place grid penalty for exceeding his permitted allocation of engine components and an unscheduled gearbox change.
His team-mate Fernando Alonso will start eleventh after complaining of a lack of power from the Woking-based outfit's Honda power unit.