Nico Rosberg may have swept to his sixth pole position of the 2016 Formula 1 season in Belgium on Saturday, but the German remains wary of the threats posed from either end of the grid by Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.
Mercedes opted to curtail Hamilton’s qualifying program early due to the array of penalties he has picked up for engine changes that meant he would start last regardless of where he finished in qualifying.
This left Rosberg to go relatively unchallenged to pole, making it through Q2 on the soft tire before seeing off late charges from Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen to top the timesheets in Q3.
However, Rosberg felt the result was never secure, particularly after struggling in final practice just three hours earlier.
“We had a difficult weekend until qualifying, especially this morning we were thinking that we were off the pace a bit,” Rosberg said.
“So I was really happy to grab pole today. The Red Bulls were quickest on the long runs on Friday, so we need to be at our best to beat them.”
With Verstappen starting on the front row with the super-soft tire, Rosberg believes he could slip behind off the line with his soft compound Pirellis.
“The tires are a big challenge in the heat here this weekend. The degradation is very high,” Rosberg said.
“My disadvantage at the start is that I have a harder tire with lower grip, so Max should get off the line quicker on the super-soft.”
Rosberg will also be keeping an eye on Hamilton’s progress, believing he could come into contention despite being set to start from the back row.
“I reckon that with some luck and a maybe a safety car, Lewis can climb up to the top very quickly, so he can’t be ruled out either,” Rosberg said.
“In any case, I’m pleased with my qualifying and looking forward to tomorrow. It will be an exciting and intense race.”
The Belgian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.