On an unexpectedly dry Saturday morning in Belgium, both Fernando and Stoffel ran smoothly in FP3, and were able to conduct all of the necessary preparation ahead of the qualifying session. The track started damp from overnight rain, but quickly dried out, enabling both drivers to run to plan. Fernando completed 12 laps and set the 10th-fastest time, and Stoffel posted the 14th-fastest time after 14 laps.
Given Stoffel's grid penalties for his PU changes which mean that he will inevitably start from the back of the grid for tomorrow's race, the team elected to optimise Fernando's strategy for qualifying. The two team-mates worked well together, staying close with every run to ensure the best possible tow. Both progressed through to Q2, with Stoffel in 10th position and Fernando in 14th.
In Q2, the team once again opted to take advantage of Stoffel's slipstream, executing a perfect strategy whereby Fernando stayed tight to his team-mate's rear wing for much of his two runs. Unfortunately, in the dying moments of the session, Fernando lost deployment in the final sector of his final lap, and narrowly missed out on progression to Q3, ending the session in 11th. Stoffel didn't set an official time in Q2 and finished the session in a net 15th, but will start his home grand prix from 20th place due to engine penalties.
Fernando Alonso: "In the end, today was a positive day for us, if you look at the overall performance. We were 1.5 seconds from P1 in Q2, and this for us is like pole position. However, at the end of the lap, because of an issue we didn't manage to make it into Q3, but it could have been possible today.
"The team did a great job and we tried to take benefit from Stoffel's penalty to help the other car take some slipstream on the straights. But, at the wrong time - in the last attempt in Q2 - we had a problem with the deployment, and I lost six tenths between Turns 11 and 12, so I aborted the lap because it was no longer possible to improve.
"We'll start from P11 tomorrow - which here in Spa is a bit of a surprise for us anyway - and maybe being on new tyres and choosing the compound is better than starting 10th."
Stoffel Vandoorne: "It's been reasonably positive today - I've been preparing for the race all weekend because I know I'll be starting from the back. Today was all about helping Fernando try to get both cars into Q2 and then help him with the slipstream, and that's what we did. Unfortunately he just missed out on Q3, but now we have to focus on tomorrow. I know starting from 20th I've got a lot of catching up to do.
"I hope I can rely on the usual Spa weather like I could yesterday in the practice sessions - that would definitely help us! We knew it was always going to be difficult to get into Q3 here. We tried everything we could today, I tried to help the team as much as possible, and it's a shame that Fernando just missed out.
"It was good teamwork today. Fernando and I have a very good relationship - we've showed that in the past, and we've showed again today that we work really well together. I'm sure the situation will come where I'll need his help!
"This weekend is so special for me - there are a lot of fans here, and I have friends and family here with me to cheer me on. It definitely gives me a little extra bit of motivation for my home grand prix."
Eric Boullier: "Today the team showed immense strength and spirit after a difficult start to the day. I'm both pleased and proud of the efforts of every single one of the guys and girls in the garage, who worked together seamlessly, executing the perfect strategy in order to optimise our potential for tomorrow's race.
"Overnight, we discovered some issues within Stoffel's power unit, which led to another PU change and further grid penalties for our Belgian star at his home race. His crew worked tirelessly to ready his car in time for FP3, and I'd like to praise and thank them for all their hard work. Also, thanks to both Stoffel and Fernando, who acquitted themselves admirably as the perfect team-mates throughout qualifying. In Q1, Fernando and Stoffel helped each other with tows - even on the same lap - a remarkable feat to pull off, and one which helped them both to progress to Q2.
"In Q2, Stoffel - fully aware of his starting position for tomorrow's race - did the honourable job of sacrificing his own performance to provide Fernando with an extra little boost on what is renowned for being an extremely challenging, power-hungry circuit. Bravo, Stoff - I'm sure the favour will be returned in due course!
"After a tough start to the day, and despite a lot of effort, a broken curfew, and excellent teamwork, it's a shame that Fernando was unable to progress through to Q3. He came excruciatingly close, until a deployment setting issue at the end of his final flying lap meant he was unable to better his lap time. However, 11th place isn't a bad place to be, and it gives us more options for tomorrow's strategy. History tells us that this will be a tough race, but with hard work, luck, and potentially some changeable weather on our side, I hope we can put on a good show tomorrow for our Belgian fans."
Yusuke Hasegawa: "I feel satisfied that Fernando will start the race from a position ready to fight for points at this power-hungry Spa-Francorchamps track.
"As is always the case with Fernando, he pushed to the maximum during the session, and although he missed out on Q3 he finished ‘best of the rest' which leaves the team a free choice of tyres for the race tomorrow.
"We think we could have extracted a bit more from our package, but the power deployment ran out before the end of Fernando's final flying lap. We will now work on adjusting the settings accordingly with McLaren and Fernando before the race.
"Regarding Stoffel, we detected a potential issue in his ICE data after yesterday's FP2 and as a precaution opted to change his power unit overnight. With this in mind, his qualifying strategy was to concentrate on set-up for the race, rather than pushing for position.
"We also witnessed some incredible teamwork between our two drivers today. Both Stoffel and Fernando worked seamlessly to help each other with tows, which helped them to progress through into Q2.
"Considering today's performance, we're hopeful that we'll be able to score some much-needed points tomorrow, and we'll do our best to maximise the opportunity."
Check out our Saturday gallery from Spa, here.