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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) — Lewis Hamilton topped Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg on Saturday in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, becoming the first driver in 14 years to take six consecutive pole positions.
The defending Formula One champion won his 10th pole of the season by leaving Rosberg nearly half a second behind in qualifying. Hamilton has missed out on pole only once this season, to Rosberg.
"The car is feeling great on the circuit," Hamilton said. "Pole position is a great thing to have but it's a long race and it's a long, long stretch down to turn five."
"This is a circuit where, if you can get the right balance, it's definitely one of the most fun to drive."
Rosberg dominated the first two practice runs on Friday, despite a scary tire puncture in the afternoon session. But in the third run ahead of qualifying, Hamilton was faster by half a second.
Hamilton is looking to increase his 21-point lead over Rosberg in the drivers' standings and take his sixth victory of the season.
This was the British driver's 48th career pole and made him the first driver since Michael Schumacher in 2001 to take six straight.
Rosberg said the high-speed puncture had unsettled him.
"We don't really understand it, for sure it's worrying," the German said. Tire maker Pirelli said the blowout was not due to a structural failure but probably caused by something on the track.
Still, Rosberg was pleased with his run.
"The car had good balance but Lewis was just too quick in the end," Rosberg said. "But it's possible to overtake here."
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit is one of the fastest and longest in Formula One at 7 kilometers (4.35 miles).
Valtteri Bottas was third in his Williams for his best result in qualifying this season. Romain Grosjean was fourth for Lotus but will be dropped five places for a gear box change.
Force India's Sergio Perez was fifth, while last year's winner in Spa, Daniel Ricciardo, was sixth in his Red Bull.
Felipe Massa was seventh for Williams, followed by Pastor Maldonado in the second Lotus.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was a disappointing ninth after winning in Hungary, the last race before the summer break.
"I didn't make big mistakes, maybe I slowed down a bit at the end. Maybe I could have been eighth or seventh, but more was not possible," said Vettel, who is third in the standings, 42 points behind Hamilton.
Carlos Sainz completed the top 10 in his Sauber.
Kimi Raikkonen, a four-time winner in Belgium, was eliminated in the second qualifying session when his Ferrari sputtered to a stop.
"Something broke," he said on team radio.
Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat was also eliminated in the second session. Kvyat had finished second in Hungary, ahead of Ricciardo, in a strong showing for Red Bull that now appears very unlikely to be repeated in Spa.
Still, Ricciardo held out hope.
"Grosjean has got a penalty so that will push me up to fifth and that's where I started from last year - not that I'm superstitious or anything, but you can always hope," Ricciardo said.
Hamilton's fastest lap was 1 minute, 47.197 seconds — 0.458 seconds ahead of Rosberg. Bottas was 1.340 seconds off the pace.
"We got the balance fine-tuned, we knew it would be close after these two guys (Hamilton and Rosberg)," Bottas said. "It should be a close fight tomorrow. It's possible for us to get a podium place."
Mercedes has dominated the season but had a lapse in Hungary. Hamilton and Rosberg started from the front of the grid but neither made the podium. Hamilton finished sixth and Rosberg was eighth.
In a more bizarre twist, the two McLaren drivers and former champions, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, were penalized a combined drop of 105 places on the grid for various engine infractions.
McLaren has been going through a terrible season and engine provider Honda is hoping for improvement with an updated product. The penalties have piled on because McLaren keeps exceeding the allowed five engine changes.
In practice, however, it means Button and Alonso will start from the back of the grid only in Belgium, since the penalties are not carried over.
Max Verstappen, who failed to finish the second of three qualifying sessions, also will drop to the back because of engine modifications.
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