Mclaren driver Lando Norris of Britain steers his car during the third practice session prior to the Formula One Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps racetrack in Spa, Belgium Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. (Francois Lenoir, Pool via AP)

Hamilton takes Belgian GP pole position, Ferrari struggles

Lewis Hamilton set a track record at the Belgian Grand Prix

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium — Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton set a track record at the Belgian Grand Prix as he clinched a record-extending 93rd pole position on Saturday, finishing well ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton is primed to extend his championship lead, which stands at 37 points over Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and 43 over Bottas.

“I didn’t make a mistake,” Hamilton said proudly.

Bottas trailed the British driver by 0.511 seconds in qualifying while Verstappen was 0.526 adrift in third.

“I need to attack if I want to keep my title hopes (alive),” said Bottas, who won the opening race of the season in Austria.

It was a strong performance from Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo, who starts from fourth on Sunday at the 7-kilometre (4.3-mile) track nestled in the Ardennes forest.

Things are going from terrible to abysmal for Ferrari, with Charles Leclerc in 13th and Sebastian Vettel 14th.

Ferrari’s lack of form was such that Leclerc, who won last year from pole position, was happy to qualify in 13th.

“Honestly, yes. It’s sad to say that but getting into Q2 was a nice surprise. I’m starting from 13th and I think it will be difficult unless it rains,” he said.

Vettel registered the previous track record on his way to victory here in 2018, but this season the veteran German driver has not even finished in the top five in six races.

Earlier, Hamilton led the third and final practice, with Vettel last — a humbling experience for the four-time F1 champion — and Leclerc faring little better in 17th place.

While Leclerc has two podium finishes this season, Vettel is enduring his worst start since 2008. He has twice finished 10th and once 12th.

Vettel last won at the Singapore GP in September — his only victory in 2019 — and the German driver’s last podium finish was in Mexico in October.

Since then he has retired in three out of nine races.

___

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press

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