Belgian Grand Prix: Nico Rosberg takes pole position from Max Verstappen

Nico Rosberg has never won the Belgian Grand Prix
Nico Rosberg has never won the Belgian Grand Prix

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg took pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix, which team-mate and title rival Lewis Hamilton will start from the back.

Hamilton has been hit with engine penalties amounting to 55 grid places, and has the choice of starting from the back of the grid or the pit lane.

Hamilton starts the race 19 points ahead of Rosberg in the championship.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen qualified second ahead of the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was fifth in front of Force India's Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg.

An open goal for Rosberg

Nico Rosberg, left, was second to Lewis Hamilton at last year's Belgian Grand Prix
Nico Rosberg, left, was second to Lewis Hamilton at last year's Belgian Grand Prix

Rosberg now has a great chance to seriously reduce his championship deficit to Hamilton.

The world champion knows his task is one of 'damage limitation' - to climb as far back up the field as he can.

Hamilton, who did only one slow run in the first part of qualifying to ensure he made it into the race without trouble, said: "It's definitely the weirdest qualifying session or weekend I've had so far.

"We are just taking all the experience and trying to use it. We already know Sunday is a lot different.

"The temperature of the track has made it incredibly hard to get the set-up right and there is only so much you can do to get the tyres to last long. But hopefully we've done it right."

The race promises to be enlivened by divergent tyre strategies, with Rosberg, the Ferraris and Ricciardo starting the race on the soft tyre and Verstappen on the super-soft, which is proving very fragile and runs out of grip after just a few laps.

A missed opportunity for Ricciardo

Max Verstappen had a lot of support in the crowd
Max Verstappen had a lot of support in the crowd from those travelling across the border from the Netherlands

That situation is likely to have left Ricciardo full of regret. His running in Friday practice suggested he was the closest rival to Mercedes on race pace.

But mistakes on both his runs in final qualifying left him 0.3secs off the pace of Verstappen, who out-qualified the Australian for only the second time since they became team-mates at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

The Dutchman delighted the thousands of his home fans who have crossed the border to cheer on their new national hero, who earlier this season became the youngest man ever to win an F1 grand prix.

Although Ferrari looked uncompetitive on Friday, they have turned things around overnight and Raikkonen was only 0.166secs off Rosberg's pace in qualifying - and just 0.017secs slower than Verstappen.

Vettel was 0.198secs off Raikkonen's pace, continuing his rocky form of recent races, and bemoaned over the radio at the end of the session the fact his tyres had lost grip even before the end of his single flying lap.

An all-star back row

Fernando Alonso has endured a frustrating weekend
Fernando Alonso has endured a frustrating weekend

Hamilton is not the only superstar who will start at the back. He will be joined there by McLaren's Fernando Alonso, who so far has a total of 35 grid places in terms of engine penalties and may yet be hit with more.

The Spaniard had a worrying day, doing only three laps in final practice because of an engine problem and then grinding to a halt after only 500 metres of qualifying with another.

He said it was possible Honda may have to change his engine again before the race.

His team-mate Jenson Button qualified ninth, splitting the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa.

Belgian Grand Prix qualifying results

Belgian Grand Prix coverage details

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