Lewis Hamilton has etched his name into Formula One folklore after equalling Michael Schumacher's all-time record by securing pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix.

The triple world champion, competing here in his 200th race, delivered a dominant performance to soar to the top of the order at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit and claim the 68th pole of his glittering career.

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel, who earlier on Saturday committed his long-term future to Ferrari, will join his rival Hamilton on the front row, with the pole-sitter's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas in third.

Hamilton has been in a buoyant mood on the sport's return to action following its summer hiatus, and the 32-year-old Englishman, as he has so often done during his decade-long career, provided the goods when it mattered the most with a record-breaking lap.Hamilton's best time of one minute and 42.553 seconds enabled him to finish one quarter of a second clear of Vettel, who pipped Bottas in the closing moments of the session.

F1 director Ross Brawn, the mastermind behind Schumacher's seven championship triumphs at Benetton and then Ferrari, delivered a congratulatory message on behalf of the German's family.

Little is known of Schumacher's condition after he suffered severe head injuries following a skiing accident more than three years ago.

"They want to congratulate you on equalling Michael's record, and as Michael always said, records are there to be beaten," Brawn said.

Hamilton, who trails Vettel by 14 points in the championship, replied: "It is special. To hear the message that Ross just gave I have to say a big thank you.

"I think and pray for Michael all the time. I've had the privilege of racing with him and always admired him and still do.

"I'm just honoured to be up there with him now in the poles, but he will still be one of the greatest of all time."

Hamilton's countryman Jolyon Palmer scaled Mount Kilimanjaro during the summer break, and the evidence here suggests he should do so before every grand prix.

The 26-year-old is one of only two drivers yet to have scored a point following a rather lacklustre year, but he has been on song this weekend.

Palmer cruised through to the top-10 shootout and looked set to qualify a career-high seventh - earning him the title as best of the rest, behind the two Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull cars - only for reliability issues to again feature.

Palmer stopped on track with smoke pluming from the back of his Renault car. "We lost gearbox oil pressure, and we are sorry about that," the luckless driver was informed over the team radio.

The Englishman is a provisional 10th on the grid, but he could face a grid penalty if his Renault team are forced to change his faulty gearbox.

For Fernando Alonso, it was business as usual, too, after he failed to make it out of Q2. The Spaniard, who seems destined to remain at McLaren next year despite some paddock conjecture that he may yet end up at Williams, qualified 11th after bemoaning a loss of power.

Alonso enjoyed a tow from his McLaren team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne - who himself will be thrown to the back of the pack after he was handed a whopping 65-place grid drop following a series of engine penalties - and looked on course to make it through to Q3.

But the double world champion had to abort his lap following an apparent failure within his Honda engine.
Elsewhere, Kimi Raikkonen, a four-time winner in Belgium, will start fourth for Ferrari, with Max Verstappen fifth for Red Bull and his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo sixth.