Mark Webber took pole position for Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Robert Kubica on a day when changeable conditions and sudden rain showers made it very hard to predict when the track would be at its fastest.
It was Webber’s fifth pole position of the season and the 12th from 13 races for Red Bull.
“We knew the first lap would be important. The weather has been so on and off. I was happy with the lap and it was enough for pole,” said Webber. “It was tense times when the track is like that. It was one of those days when it could go wrong.”
Rain for the final runs looked to have spoiled any chance for drivers to improve, but Lewis Hamilton still managed to find time and climbed to second on the grid.
At the start of qualifying the track was dry enough for slick tyres, but Vitaly Petrov found some dampness and crashed into the barriers, a mistake he made earlier in the season in qualifying. The session was red flagged and Petrov had set no time. After his strong performance in Budapest this was a real fall from grace for the Russian.
The stoppage used up vital dry track time. And the rain fell as the cars did their out laps, but everyone carried on and tried to do a lap on slick tyres. There were spins, including Adrian Sutil. Button and Hamilton did very strong laps, but Sebastian Vettel delayed his departure from the pits and didn’t quite make it in the window when the track was fast, so he was 17th, only one place away from missing the cut for Q2. He went out on intermediates and got himself up to 3rd place.
In the closing stages of Q1, De la Rosa and Kobayashi tried their luck on slick tyres and went off the track, Mark Webber also took a risk by going out on slicks, while Alonso and Kubica both set fast times on intermediates. It was rather an unnecessary gamble at the time by Webber, but he survived and set a competitive time.
With Petrov, Kobayashi and De La Rosa out, this gave Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen the chance to make it through to Q2.
The cars went out on slick tyres for Q2, but there was still quite a bit of water on the track in Turn 14, which sent Button and Massa off the track, but they rejoined. Schumacher excelled in these mixed conditions on the harder tyre. The track was improving all the time and was obviously going to be fastest at the end of the session. Sadly for Schumacher he hit traffic when the track was fastest and missed the cut. He qualified 11th but will start 21st due to his ten place penalty.
Team mate Rosberg qualified 12th, but will start 17th due to a five place gearbox change penalty. Also missing the cut for Q3 were Alguersuari, Liuzzi, Buemi, Kovalainen and Glock.
Lewis Hamilton was very impressive in the changeable conditions of Q1 and Q2, with two laps fast enough to beat the next fastest runner.
In Q3 the speed of the Red Bull in the middle sector was clear, he was half a second faster than the McLarens in that sector alone. After the first runs, Webber was fastest, being the last of the front runners to set their time. He was ahead of Kubica and Vettel. Meanwhile Alonso could only manage 9th.
The rain then started falling around the first sector, just as the cars went out for their final runs, but a few drivers still managed to improve their lap times, including Hamilton who went up to second place and Button who went fifth. Alonso could not improve and ended up 10th.