SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) — Lewis Hamilton again showed he's the best driver in the rain by taking pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix on Saturday.
The Mercedes driver saved his best for the last lap to easily beat Sebastian Vettel's leading time for Ferrari by 0.7 seconds and secure a Formula One record-extending 78th pole.
"The rain is always a friend of mine," Hamilton said. "I think that was one of the hardest sessions I can remember. We only had a few laps to find the grip (in the rain), to find where the track was dry and wet."
On his penultimate lap, Hamilton swerved off track momentarily. But as usual in the wet, he regained his composure when it counted.
"I went off in Turn 1 and then into Turn 12," the British driver said. "I only had one lap left or I would have been further down the order."
Hamilton has won the last two races — both affected by rain — to take the championship lead and move 24 points in front of Vettel.
Vettel was second in another disappointment for Ferrari, which topped all three practice sessions. But like in previous races, the rain seemed to affect Vettel's confidence and boost Hamilton's.
"Obviously (the rain) didn't help. It was a bit strange, not easy to get your eye in," Vettel said. "Maybe I wasn't as calm as I could be. There is confusion when all of a sudden it starts to rain. (Teammate) Kimi (Raikkonen) was rushing to get back out. I had a bit of traffic."
The rain only came down for the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3, and shook up the field considerably.
Two days after the team came out of administration, the re-named Racing Point Force India took third and fourth with Frenchman Esteban Ocon ahead of Sergio Perez.
"It's always closer between the cars when it rains like that," said Ocon, who matched his career best.
Vettel praised Ocon's performance.
"It's his day," Vettel said.
But Vettel was less impressed with his own team.
"It was a bit chaotic and not great from a management point of view," he said. "I don't feel we put everything together in the last lap, we ran out of battery on the last lap. It wasn't a nice ending to qualifying."
Vettel clearly wasn't happy at the end.
"I was surprised when I crossed the line and saw the battery was quite low. We should have managed better as a team."
"All of the laps don't matter except the last one ... (It is) not very rewarding when you know you could have done better," said Vettel, who looked agitated in the post-qualifying news conference. "I think we had the pace for pole today but we'll never know."
Ferrari has made basic blunders this season. A team mechanic broke his leg by Raikkonen after an unsafe pit release at the Bahrain GP. At the Hungarian GP last month, the team forgot to fill Raikkonen's drinks bottle, meaning he drove the whole race in sweltering conditions without water.
Raikkonen threw his hands up in annoyance after the team could not get him out in time for a final lap on Saturday — particularly frustrating for the Finnish driver who was good throughout practice and started qualifying strongly. He starts the race from sixth behind Haas driver Romain Grosjean.
Bottas qualified 10th but starts from the back of the grid after being penalized for too many engine-part changes.
Earlier, Vettel posted the fastest time in third and final practice ahead of Raikkonen and Hamilton.
Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire