Carrying an emotional burden only spurred Lewis Hamilton on to greater heights in taking pole for the Belgian Grand Prix. He dedicated his own riveting performance at Spa-Francorchamps to the memory of Chadwick Boseman, who died on Friday. Hamilton said the news had left him almost broken but felt the actor had been such an inspiration to young black people he desperately wanted to deliver in his honour.
While Hamilton dominated in Spa, at the other end of the grid Ferrari flailed and foundered in the forests of the Ardennes. Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel failed to make it into the top 10 shootout and finished in 13th and 14th respectively.
For Hamilton, only afterwards did he reveal how the news of the death of Boseman, who played Black Panther in four Marvel films, had weighed heavily on him. Having been a strident voice in F1’s anti-racism campaign and a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, Hamilton took the death of an inspirational black figure, whom he had met in New York, personally.
“This was an important pole, I woke up today to the saddest news of Chadwick passing away,” he said. “It’s been such a heavy year for us all and that news broke me, so it wasn’t easy to get back focused. Our superhero died last night, that was weighing heavy on me today. I was so driven to deliver a good performance so I could dedicate it to Chad.”
The world champion felt Boseman had played a vital role in promoting the diversity which Hamilton has also championed. “I am a huge Marvel fan and knowing how Hollywood has been, to see the first black superhero come out, everyone was just so proud,” he said. “This under-representation is such a common thing, to see someone like him make it to be such a powerful figure in the Avengers world was incredible and inspiring. I can imagine young black kids looking up and seeing that it as possible to be a superhero, so his legacy will always live on.”
At the sharp end Hamilton betrayed no sign of the sadness he was feeling. He looked nailed on for the top spot from the moment he took to the track. His first hot run in Q3 saw him confident enough to lead the field out, unconcerned by trying to find a slipstream.
Exploiting every inch of the track and the clear pace advantage he was enjoying, a blistering lap ensued with a time of 1min 41.451sec. It was over half a second clear of his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. Leading the way again on his second run, the British driver found even more. He went two-tenths quicker in 1.41.252 and Bottas remained second, a full half a second adrift, an age for a driver in identical machinery. The Red Bull of Max Verstappen was in third.
For Ferrari, what was expected to be a trying weekend deteriorated into only narrowly avoiding humiliation. Their car has been down on power all season since the FIA issued a clarification on the engine regulations to the team, in a controversial private settlement. They knew it would cost them at the power-dependent Spa but no one anticipated a descent almost to the back of the grid. The car also has aero problems, creating too much drag, and in Belgium they struggled to switch on the tyres because they were experimenting with a low‑downforce setup to combat the speed deficit. It left them with a lack of grip, compounding their woes.
Last year they were dominant at Spa. They led every session before the race with a one-two and Leclerc took pole with a seven-tenths advantage. He went on to win untroubled from the front. This time they went backwards through practice, 14th and 15th and 15th and 17th on Friday, before the ignominy of the final session on Saturday morning when Leclerc was 17th and Vettel last in 20th.
In qualifying they were close to being beaten by the Ferrari-engined Haas and Alfa Romeo cars, not to mention the rest of the midfield. A yellow flag late in Q1 that slowed some final hot laps may have spared them going out in the first session. With the car designs frozen for cost-saving purposes in 2021, a long and painful season and a half stretches ahead of the Scuderia.
Leclerc swore over his radio and added: “There is not much more I can do,” after his final lap. “It’s very difficult to find an explanation,” he added. “It’s a big step back compared to the others so we need to try and find the main issue, try and address it.
Vettel also acknowledged the plight in which Ferrari have found themselves. “It is the true picture of what the car can do around here. We tried everything,” he said. “Obviously we’re not where we want to be, but that’s not the first race and the first qualifying where that has been the case.”
Daniel Ricciardo was in fourth for Renault with Red Bull’s Alexander Albon in fifth. Esteban Ocon was sixth for Renault, with Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez and Lance Stroll in eighth and ninth. Carlos Sainz was seventh for McLaren with his teammate Lando Norris in 10th. Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly were 11th and 12th for AlphaTauri and the Williams of George Russell was in 15th.
Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi were in 16th and 18th for Alfa Romeo. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were in 17th and 20th for Haas with the Williams of Nicholas Latifi in 19th.