Sebastian Vettel took his ninth pole position of the season after one of the most exciting qualifying sessions for many years. He beat Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber to pole after a thrilling final run on the slick tyres on a damp track. It was quite a turnaround for the German who was slower than his team mate when the track was wet, but onto slicks he found a margin of 4/10ths of a second.
There were many surprises; Jaime Alguersuari was outstanding in the Toro Rosso in sixth place, Bruno Senna qualified seventh ahead of team mate Petrov and Fernando Alonso could manage only eighth, one second behind team mate Massa. Jenson Button was only 13th and Michael Schumacher starts from the back of the grid. Nico Rosberg again performed very well in fifth place, his highest grid slot since the Turkish GP.
“It was a difficult session,” said Vettel. “The circuit was surprisingly drying very quickly. I didn’t feel very comfortable to start with. In Q3 we were sure it was all down to the last lap. The last lap I tried to push as hard as I can. Tomorrow they say is dry but anything is possible.”
Webber said that he pushed too hard on his slicks too soon, so there wasn’t quite enough grip left on the final lap. Vettel’s judgement on this was very good.
With a track still wet enough to require intermediate tyres, rain was forecast for the start of qualifying, so most cars went out straight away on intermediates. Michael Schumacher went off in strange circumstances, a rear wheel detaching from his car and sending him into the barriers and out on his 20th anniversary in F1.
It was hard to judge when to be out on track, given that rain was due but hadn’t come when it was expected. Timing was everything. Both Lotus cars and Adrian Sutil were in the garage when the track was at its fastest, with about four minutes to go. The rain started falling hard about two minutes before the end of Q1. But Kovalainen still managed to find some time and got himself out of the drop zone, pushing Paul di Resta down to 18th. Force India had called him in believing that he was safely into Q2.
Team mate Adrian Sutil crashed his car early in Q2, making a mistake on the exit of Eau Rouge. The lap times were five seconds slower than in Q1 before the red flag came out. Alonso was in trouble not having set a time. He complained when the session was restarted that it was “impossible” with the traffic to get a clear run.
He managed to set the fastest time at the end of the session. The intermediates were lasting around five laps, but drivers had to be out on track at the end to get the fastest time. Jenson Button wasn’t and was eliminated, despite having a car which was a second a lap faster than his rivals in Q1. He was called in by his team, questioned the decision, but then accepted their decision. The team was wrong.
Bruno Senna was on track and got into the top ten. Of the midfielders Buemi, Alguersuari and Petrov were also safely into the top ten.
There was a curious incident between Hamilton and Maldonado, after the Briton pushed past the Venezuelan at the end of the fastest lap. Maldonado was eliminated. As they came out of La Source, Maldonado came alongside and went into him, damaging Hamilton’s wing. Close inspection of the replays shows Hamilton making two separate moves to the right, giving the stewards a difficult decision. Hamilton’s car was still being repaired when Q3 started.
“I was on the end of my Q2 lap, there were two Williams going very slow. I had to get past. As I exited Turn 1 I saw Maldonado close up and he went past me and swiped into me,” said Hamilton. Rival teams felt that Hamilton had his share of the blame for the incident, as the pair went up to see the stewards.
Most drivers went for slick tyres at the start of Q3, but Massa went off track, lacking heat in the tyres.
It was a thrilling Q3 session, as the track dried more and more drivers were finding that they were up to 2 seconds faster than their previous lap. Webber had the upper hand in the damp, but as the dry line increased, Vettel came to the fore.
BELGIAN GRAND PRIX, Spa Francorchamps, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m48.298s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m48.730s + 0.432
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m49.376s + 1.078
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m50.256s + 1.958
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m50.552s + 2.254
6. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m50.773s + 2.475
7. Bruno Senna Renault 1m51.121s + 2.823
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m51.251s + 2.953
9. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m51.374s + 3.076
10. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m52.303s + 4.005
11. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 2m04.692s + 1.924
12. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 2m04.757s + 1.989
13. Jenson Button McLaren 2m05.150s + 2.382
14. Rubens Barrichello Williams 2m07.349s + 4.581
15. Adrian Sutil Force India 2m07.777s + 5.009
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams 2m08.106s + 5.338
17. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 2m08.354s + 5.586
18. Paul di Resta Force India 2m07.758s + 5.945
19. Jarno Trulli Lotus 2m07.773s + 5.960
20. Timo Glock Virgin 2m09.566s + 7.753
21. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin 2m11.601s + 9.788
22. Tonio Liuzzi HRT 2m11.616s + 9.803
23. Daniel Ricciardo HRT 2m13.077s + 11.264
24. Michael Schumacher Mercedes no time