SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) — After clinching the record-extending 93rd pole position of his distinguished career, Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton stood proudly on top of his all-black Mercedes and crossed his arms in memory of a hero of his own.
The British driver dedicated his latest exceptional drive at the Belgian Grand Prix to American actor Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer on Friday at the age of 43.
“A superhero died last night so that was really weighing heavy on me today," Hamilton said. “I was so driven to deliver a good performance today so I could dedicate it to Chad.”
Boseman played Black American icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown before inspiring audiences as the regal “Black Panther” in Marvel’s blockbuster movie franchise. The film inspired the cross-armed “Wakanda forever” salute that became a pop culture landmark.
“This was an important pole. I woke up today to the saddest news of Chadwick passing away,” Hamilton said. “That news broke me, so it wasn’t easy to get back focused. For what he’s done for our people and super heroes — to show the kids what’s possible in life. Wakanda forever.”
The salute was so resonant that California congresswoman Maxine Waters stood up and did it at singing legend and civil rights activist Aretha Franklin's funeral two years ago.
Hamilton, the only black driver in F1, explained the impact both Chadwick and his film character had on him.
“I was really, really lucky I got to meet him once and tell him how awesome he was. Because I remember when I was a kid, Superman was the hero, didn’t look like me and I still thought Superman was the greatest,” Hamilton said. "And so when Chad became the king, when he became a superhero, it was such a special day for so many people. Because I know that young kids would be able to now look up to him and see that it is possible.”
Boseman's death prompted an outpouring of grief and Hamilton fondly recalled the time they met.
“In New York during Fashion Week … we were out at the same dinner. We actually kind of partied away together because we were on the same table. It was an incredible scenario,” Hamilton said. “I remember when ‘Black Panther’ came out and I’m a huge Marvel fan. So just knowing how Hollywood has been for a long, long time and to see the first Black superhero come out, everyone was so proud.”
Hamilton dominated qualifying once again, setting a track record at the 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) circuit located in the Ardennes forest, finishing .511 seconds ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and .526 clear of Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
Hamilton, who is chasing a seventh F1 title to equal Michael Schuamcher's record, leads the standings by 37 points over Verstappen and 43 over Bottas.
“That’s one of the cleanest qualifying sessions I’ve ever had," Hamilton said proudly. “It’s a phenomenal feeling driving around this track, how fast this track has become.”
But Bottas has not given up hope of closing the gap with a victory on Sunday, considering Spa is the longest in F1 and has a big straight up to the first turn.
“I’m not too bothered as I know second place is a good place to start,” Bottas said. “I need to attack if I want to keep my title hopes there, so I’m definitely going to go for it. I know there will be opportunities.”
It was a strong performance from Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo, who starts from fourth.
But 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.
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