By Alan Baldwin
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton turned the screw on Formula One championship leader Sebastian Vettel at the Belgian Grand Prix on Saturday by chalking up his fourth pole position in a row.
Not since Damon Hill with Williams in 1995 has a British driver started four races in a row from pole, and the 31st of Hamilton's career left him eight short of his Red Bull rival's tally.
The Mercedes driver is narrowing the gap in the statistics but he needs to do so in the standings on Sunday to make it a real championship duel between two rivals still separated by 48 points with nine races to go.
Hamilton did not need reminding of that and was confident he could do so.
"He's had so many pole positions but I am slowly catching up. I've caught four up on him but it's not important. Wins are more important," said Hamilton.
The Briton has translated only five of his poles so far this season into a win, his first for Mercedes coming at the Hungarian Grand Prix before the start of the August break, but he is gaining momentum.
Mercedes have now chalked up eight poles in 11 races, with Vettel taking the other three, and Hamilton - currently fourth overall - is moving into contention after a difficult start to the year.
A bad day for Red Bull's triple champion could change everything as quickly as the Spa weather goes from sun to rain.
"I really feel that I am getting everything out of the car," said Hamilton. "I'm getting everything out of every opportunity that I have. I know there's a lot of pressure for everyone but I feel in a good place.
"I can't remember the last time I crossed the line and had such a good feeling...I could see the team was cheering so I couldn't believe that.
"It's just crazy to think that this is my 31st pole and it still feels like it's the first one. It's just an incredible feeling."
Saturday's pole was helped by the weather, with the Briton the last man across the line on a drying track, and he narrowly came close to qualifying 11th after just sneaking through to the final phase.
Vettel looked to have grabbed the pole but Hamilton then popped up at the last to snatch it from him despite the readings on his dash giving him misleading information. His shouting filled the radio when told what he had done.
He gave his all, hoped for the best and it worked out.
"It's a shame you can't hear what I was saying when I was doing the whole in-lap. I can try and say I was keeping it cool but I wasn't," said Hamilton.
"We are going to work as hard as we can to beat both the Red Bulls tomorrow. It's not impossible. We've just got to get the strategy right."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Stephen Wood)