Button in control for First McLaren Pole as Maldonado is punished again
Posted By:   |  01 Sep 2012   |  5:48 pm GMT  |  94 comments

Jenson Button claimed his first McLaren pole position in dominant fashion today with a spectacular performance in Spa to head an unexpected top three ahead of Kamui Kobayashi and Pastor Maldonado.

But hours after the session ended, stewards took Maldonado’s fastest time away for an impeding incident in Q1 on Hulkenberg. It moves Kimi Raikkonen, who was also quizzed by stewards for leaving the circuit boundary with all four wheels, up to third, with Perez fourth.

In Button’s 50th Grand Prix for McLaren he set two laps fast enough for pole and finished the session 3/10ths faster than anybody. The Briton, using a new rear wing, showed his potential early on in qualifying with the fastest hard tyre run in Q1, a significant advantage in Q2 and two immaculate laps in the top ten shootout.

“I’m surprised that the new rear wing is working so well, but the engineers also did a great job with the balance,” said Button. “And it’s even more encouraging that we had good consistency through all three qualifying sessions. Nonetheless, nobody has done any long runs yet, so we still need to wait and see how tomorrow pans out.

“Can I still win the drivers’ championship? Yes. We’ll take it one day at a time, but hopefully we can get some good points tomorrow.”

He has the pace, but has been hard on his tyres in races this season and tomorrow’s race is all about whether he has been able to fix that. Kobayashi and Sauber have good pace and look after the tyres and have profited from Button’s higher degradation before.

So they provide a threat, as does Raikkonen in the Lotus, starting in third. If Raikkonen can get ahead of Kobayashi at the start he can take advantage of any problems with Button’s higher tyre use it should be a fascinating end to the race.

In turn, Raikkonen’s threat comes from Alonso, who has better straight line speeds. Alonso has to get ahead of Raikkonen at the start as the Lotus will get away in the middle sector of the lap and it will be hard for Alonso. In that scenario he may have to use strategy to gain places. THe Ferrari has looked good all weekend, despite not quite having the pace in qualifying.

Strategy will be vital; at present the hard tyre looks like it could end up being the better race tyre. It was superior to the soft tyre in Silverstone and the same could be the case with the medium tomorrow. Two stops is the fastest way, but there are some teams considering doing one stop.

Lewis Hamilton went for a higher downforce set up than his team mate, hoping to gain an advantage in the middle sector as Raikkonen did, which is downforce dependant. It didn’t work out, he wasn’t fast enough and lost 0.4s on the straights and it’s probably a less ideal set up for racing than Button’s. It will be hard to make progress.

Kobayashi becomes the first Japanese driver to begin on the front row of a Grand Prix since Takuma Sato in 2004. The Sauber was strong from the outset and Sergio Perez’s improved starting position puts them in a strong position to claim podiums and a large haul of points tomorrow.

Despite his penalty, Maldonado produced his best qualifying position since the Spanish GP and has piled further pressure on Bruno Senna, who could only get his Williams in to 17th place and behind the two Toro Rosso cars.

Throughout the session it had looked to be coming down to a Button-Raikkonen battle for pole and this remained the story in the final phase of qualifying until Raikkonen failed to improve during his second run. This means that, significantly, Button has a buffer ahead of his championship rivals with Alonso (6th), Webber (7th) and Hamilton (8th) all unable to compete with his pace.

Alonso, the pacesetter in practice this morning, could not build on this. But starting ahead of his main championship rivals leaves him in a very good position for tomorrow. He and Webber, who has a five-place gearbox penalty, had struggled to match the pace of Button in Q2 and opted for just a single tyre run in order to save a set of options for race day.

Vettel was just 2/10ths slower than Webber in Q2, but that amounted to seven positions and he missed out on a top ten place by 1/100th of a second.

Romain Grosjean and Paul Di Resta completed the top ten and they will have opposite emotions following the session. Grosjean just sneaked into Q2 after he hit traffic in Q1 and used up a set of options in the process. And with Lotus as many peoples tip for the win this weekend they will be disappointed to once again not have the qualifying pace to give them that platform. Di Resta, however, was impressive throughout and was happy to claim the bragging rights over Nico Hulkenberg. Di Resta will move up to ninth after Webber’s penalty.

Michael Schumacher in his 300th GP did his best but the Mercedes again wasn’t fast enough. He was 13th with Nico Rosberg only 18th. The team were once again struggling with tyre issues and will be hoping for either rain or chaos to claim a decent amount of points.

[Additional reporting: Matt Meadows]

BELGIAN GRAND PRIX, Spa Francorchamps, Qualifying

1. Jenson Button McLaren 1m47.573s
2. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m47.871s + 0.298s
3. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m47.893s + 0.320s *
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m48.205s + 0.632s
5. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m48.219s + 0.646s
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m48.313s + 0.740s
7. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m48.392s + 0.819s **
8. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m48.394s + 0.821s
9. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m48.538s + 0.965s
10. Paul di Resta Force India 1m48.890s + 1.317s

11. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m49.722s + 0.472s
12. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m49.362s + 0.112s
13. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m49.742s + 0.492s
14. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m49.588s + 0.338s
15. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m49.763s + 0.513s
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m49.572s + 0.322s
17. Bruno Senna Williams 1m49.958s + 0.708s

18. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m50.181s + 1.188s**
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m51.739s + 2.746s
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m51.967s + 2.974s
21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m52.336s + 3.343s
22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m53.030s + 4.037s
23. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m53.493s + 4.500s
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m54.989s + 5.996s

* = 3 place penalty for blocking Hulkenberg
** = 5 Place gearbox penalty

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Fernando Alonso is well placed in the provisional grid

to make a very good start. It is crucial for him to overtake at least two cars to be in a position to fight for the win or for podiums places.The cooler track temperature should suit the Ferrari, which is compensating the expecting dry circumstances.

Therefore, I expect to be a close battle between Alonso and Raikkonen. I am rule out Button in the this category, because I am assume and expect that the Mclaren will have problems with the colder track temperature.

The next two races, will give a good indication if the wdc-title, Alonso to lose.


Strangest grid I can remember. I guess that’s the result of minimal running in free practice.

Congrats to Jenson & McLaren. That car must be so perfectly set-up with no over/under steer whatsoever for Jenson to put it on pole. I’ve never heard anyone complain over the radio as much as Jenson 😉 That said, I wish him luck. I think he’s a decent bloke.

Congrats also to Sauber, Kamui & Sergio. They’re starting in front of a lot of fancied drivers/teams on Sunday. No pressure guys 😉


Ferrari still slow, and stuck in the midfield. So much for all the hype, and Alonso getting bashed for understating the performance of his car. 1 second off pole just like last race. the car is rubbish, the worst Ferrari since early 80s.


This just ONE race, or rather qualifying.

See what happens on Sunday.

Do you normally over-react like this?


you been watching the rest of the season? the dry weekends?


Yes I’ve been watching the rest of the season- & the previous 48 seasons.

What I DO see is FA leading the WDC by quite a margin.

In the worst Ferrari since the early 80s?




Interesting to see drivers on the high down force setup – could it be that they are expecting a wet race?


Maldo still hasn’t learnt that he can’t drive like in GP2. What happened at GP’s race yesterday and the chaos would not be acceptable in F1. He’s been punished repeatedly and still does it again and again. Frank must be beating him with the trophy now.


Hi James

I thought f1’s summer break meant that the factories closed for a month. How is it possible that some of the teams came to spa with new parts?


They closed for 2 weeks only


Should Hamilton change his wing and start from the pits? Given a 0.8s benefit, higher straight line speed, ease of overtaking and free tyre choice it might work out for him in the race.


Merc + utterly pathetic. Schmacher will retire and merc will quit the sport.


I hope Raikkonen remembers not to pass other cars off the racing track like he did at the start of the ’09 race.

Mercedes must be one unhappy team right now. They are going to be down in 6th place in the constructors’ championship if Sauber has a good race or two.


I wish we could see footage of Maldonado blocking Hulkenburg and judge for ourselves…It doesn’t seem fair that everyone just judges the steward’s descision correct despite not actually seeing the incident for themselves. Also I noticed HRT heavily blocked Grosjean in Q1, yet no action? Inconsistent.


I was thinking the same, but James was kind enough in a comment above to clarify that the HRT was on a hot lap, therefore didn’t had to move away for the Lotus. You only need to move away if you’re on a in/out lap.


Lewis and Kimi both went for higher downforce setups. This should result in less sliding through the tricky sector 2, which will reduce tyre wear. So while it is clearly slower for one lap where you can wreck your tyres, it may well be a better strategy considering the cars start significantly heavier with full tanks and need to make their tyres last for longer than one lap. I have a feeling Kimi will win this, and Hamilton may not be far behind.


that’s what I was wondering myself, and I don’t think Lewis realises this fully yet…… I really hope this race is about the title hopefuls and not about a glory day for someone who will go back to hobnobbing with HRT and Caterhm for the rest of this season.

Tornillo Amarillo

Advises to Lewis :)) =

1. Stay away from Malonado

2. One stop…

Bring Brack Murray

But will Maldonado stay away from Lewis? We’ll find out at about 1.01 pm!


Well done to JB.

Maybe we should ban him from FP1 & FP2? Seriously, having to make a decision on set-up for the race based on data from FP3 and simulations meant that he (JB) had no time to chase the perfect set-up…something that appears to be his Achilles Heel.

Let’s hope we get a win tomorrow.


Why is it 3 place for Maldo?! o_O Isn’t it usually 5?


The stewards’ decision said that b/c it didn’t negatively affect Hulkenberg (he got thru to Q2), that it didn’t need to be penalized more heavily. It also said that the Williams team had told Pastor not to hold Nico H up, and he then proceeded to do so! I guess one could say that Hulkenburg might’ve used more tires than he otherwise would’ve because of the blocking.


yet vettel was only fined for dangerous actions in the pitlane? that makes perfect sense.


They took his fastest time away. Not specify a place grid drop.


Because if they’d have given him a five place penalty then that would have allowed Lewis to benefit from it – and the stewards could not possibly have allowed that. Stewards are only allowed to take from Lewis, they’re not permitted to give to him.


Maybe they couldnt resist placing him on the same row and Hamilton 🙂


Can Hamilton change his rear wing and use the same as Button or parc fermé regulations ban it?

If he can, he´ll be one of the favorites for the victory and also a good step in his fight for the championship. If not he will struggle with the pace.


he can swap numbers on this car with jenson(i have oversteer) button, drive his car noone would know


He’s effectively leaving a second a lap on the table with that wing, vis-a-vis Button. Incredible that McLaren ever thought that that setup could yield similar lap times than the low-downforce setup.


I believe, just like James confirmed, that DC and Ben Edwards mentioned that the teams must use the set-up that is on the car leaves the pits in Q3.

I thought they might be able to change settings in Q3, but doesn’t look that way.

We should have a cracking race tomorrow with so many of the front runners in the midpack.


No he cannot



Could he choose to change it and start from the back/pits? I’m not suggesting he would, but I’m just wondering if it’s an option? Or do you have to prove something is failing before you can make any changes at all?


He could change it and start from pit lane yes


Why was the HRT no punished then for blocking the lotus? I no Roman got through so it didn’t effect him but surley it was the same for Nico?


Because the HRT was on a “hot” lap too. You only get done for blocking if you are on an in or out lap


I wonder how fast the Williams could go in the hands of a top driver?


What do you think? That Hamilton or Alonso would be 2 seconds faster?


Not as much as that, but certainly faster.


I doubt Alonso or Hamilton would go faster than Maldonado in qualifying. The guy is far away of being a top driver but talking about speed in a single lap he is one of the very best. The Williams was not a car to get 3rd in qualifying. The difference between a top driver and some others (Grosjean, Maldonado, etc) is not speed in a single lap but many other things.


I don’t know how much. That’s what I’m wondering in my original post. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t believe that Maldonado is a top driver, based on 30 years of watching F1.


How much then and what do you base it on? How much did Maldonado beat Senna by?


I think no top driver could go any faster than Maldonado. They could be much more consistent in races but not faster in qualifying.

Maldonado is simply very fast everywhere, while Bruno depends more of having the set up right to suit him. Because Maldonado is more like a Senna (Ayrton) in a single lap, while Bruno is more like a Prost in the driving style.


I’ve been wondering the same thing myself.


I think the unusual qualifying results show how ‘touchy’ (for lack of a better word) the ‘faster’ cars are regarding set-up. It seems that now it’s 90% car and 10% driver. I’d much prefer still having the days when it was 50% car, 50% driver.


When were those days?


Since you had to ask, I’d guess that they were before you were born.


Vettel is clearly a great driver but I admit to being gobsmacked by Gary Anderson’s assertion that he is better than Senna. No one could make such a claim at this stage of his career, especially in light of his relatively similar performance level to Webber (aa very good but not great driver) in 2010 and 2012.


One of the engineers who worked with Senna and Schumacher said he was better than Schumacher and on par with Senna. My opinion is that he has had too much success without failure too soon in his career and now he does not have the resolve or the experience to overcome difficulty. Who knows if he will ever get back to his winning ways on merit.


He actually said that????? When?

I don’t recall Senna ever, ever, ever being consistently matched by a solid-but-not-that-amazing driver like Webber.


Just to clarify, he said this in the latest issue of F1 racing (not during this weekends coverage). The actual quote was:

“Vettel is as good as – and might even be a smidge better than – Ayrton Senna”


Senna’s team-mates,

Cecotto, johansson, De Angelis, Dumfries, Nakajima, Prost, Berger, Andretti, Hakkinen and Hill

He destroyed his pre Mclaren team mates, at times his time over Nakajima was between 3 & 4 seconds a lap. Not significant? Well Piquet was only around a second quicker when he was team mate to Nakajima

Okay maybe an unfair comparison, but Senna then signed to join Prost’s team, his sheer speed and unrelenting competition pushed Prost beyond his comfort zones and he left the team acrimoniously.

Berger to my mind is a perfect Webber comparison, on his day unbeatable, but not at the “greats” level.

Senna and Berger may have been friends, but there was no quarter given, Berger got a very rude awakening to what Senna’s skills were ” unbelievable”

So to Andretti, US champion, but for a variety of reasons never worked in F1, then Hakkinen who out qualified Senna by 100ths in Estoril, something Murray Walker used to promote Mika’s abilities ever after, yet forgetting that Senna was immediately ahead in the race and won the last two of the season.

Hill? He lapped Hill chasin Schumacher in Brazil…

He was on pole for his only races with Williams

In Senna’s career he beat race winners, De Angelis and Berger.

WDC’s Prost

Future WDC, Hakkinen and Hill

Vettel hasn’t displayed any sign of transcending his car in the same way Hamilton, Alonso, Schumacher, Senna, Prost or Villeneuve or in fact many of the greats of history have.

Maybe he’s too young yet, maybe he never will but if the only time he can win is with a car advantage then I can’t imagine him being top 5 in the all time list

It’s like any comparison, times, eras and technology changes the landscape.



Should have finished,

Jimi Hendrix or Slash, both brilliant but times, technology have changed but throw a guitarist into that mix, someone who has recently appeared, he’s great because he’s there now, historic figures cannot compare to what we’re witnessing. I would imagine there are psychological reasons for the way we view history

Borg, Sampras or Federer, racket technology has moved on all the time, the average player now is over 6 ft tall, their diet, training and fitness have moved on so far in 5 years, how can you compare that to 30 years ago.

Yet here we all sit making massive assumptions about what we see on our tv

Be wary of Lucifers box


OMG! I dont use that abreviation often but did he really say THAT?! His rep has gone down in recent times but I have always given him the benefit of the doubt. However, if this comment is true…. the ice has cracked!


So glad I missed that [mod] comments. It sounds just like Brundle all last year, speaking of a charmed driver in a biased teams dominant car.


Vettel is a top driver, but he has shown this year that he is most definitely not the greatest on that grid. If he were, Webber would be nowhere near him in the standings at all!!!

If Vettel is better, what the hell does that say of Alonso?


I actually gave up on BBC and their evaluation on drivers.

Their all time greatest drivers list is a joke and seems that list is not the end of it.

Very biased in their commentary.


Absolutely agree, Alonso at 11, where the hell are they going to place “kettle”


I think it’s difficult to even compare drivers from such different eras. The skills required and the pressures are almost different sports these days. Perhaps Senna would have been merely ‘good’ in today’s ultra-sophisticated gadget filled machines where his mechanical wizardry might not have matched up to vettels games console concentration. Maybe vettel would have been a complete also ran in the senna hey-day.

Also you’d have to rate drivers on numerous things – styles, ability to adapt, raw speed, grit, ability to handle mental or physical stresses – you might never pick Alonso as the fastest single racer in history but you’d probably have to put him in the top 10 of all time in the ‘all round pretty great at everything’ category.

I think you can only compare drivers to their peers and perhaps only the peak of their careers. It’s not fair to compare Schumacher at 43 with Schumacher at 30. Vettel peaked early – perhaps he’ll just get better or perhaps he’ll drop off the talent cliff faster than a pirrelli super soft on a lava flow…and maybe webber is peaking in his mid 30s and we should be assessing him now as his best years.

Comparisons are tricky. Best stick to results against peers. Results don’t tell the whole story but they are slightly less subjective.


Lewis and Pastor side-by-side? Greeaaat.




Last race, Hamilton had similar performance in qualifying over the rest of the filed, but Lotus of Raikkonen caught him up a few laps before. Hamilton still won thanks to his driving and also to the circuit characteristics there. I think tomorrow we may have a similar situation and I don’t think then Button will be able to fend off Raikkonen again thanks to his driving and also the circuit characteristics.


My thoughts exactly. I dont see Button holding the speed advantage in tomorrows race… but we can never be sure.

If Kimi can pass Kamui at the start and stay close, he may be able to pounce if JB has any tyre issues.


A request James, can you add to the qualifying report, the number of new sets of prime/option tyres that remain with the drivers for the race. It would be really helpful to know how teams plan their strategy based on that.

Thank You



I hardly ever see this reported in detail by anyone.




Keep it together, Kobayashi-san!


So Maldonado’s penalty puts Alonso on the clean side. I don’t know why McLaren split their strategies … last time I can remember them doing that (Monza 2010), Lewis also came off worse, though it was b/c he went for the lower downforce setting then instead of the higher. It seems like a repeat of last year for Hamilton at Spa, too much rear wing. Would be good if there was a light shower though.

I don’t think there was anyway anyone was catching Button today, and it would seem to me that Lewis is usually good to be two-tenth’s faster than Jenson in qualifying, which would’ve meant he’d be in the low 47’s if he was on the same downforce setup. Lack of Friday running hurt.


To be fair in Monza 2010 Lewis came off worse in qualifying but we never got to see what he could have done in the race due to a bit of a silly mistake. I felt he was on for the win that time.

In this situation, his setup was theoretically better for qualifying so his race will be very difficult indeed.


I might be because drivers prefer different setups. Lewis said they voted for the old wing..therefore don’t blame McLaren.

But I do understand where you come from. The team has the data in front of them and they should’ve seen that the new wing offers better performance.

Hope Lewis has a good race tomorrow.


Lewis mentioned in the post race interviews that he’d tried jensons set up and hadn’t liked it/it hadn’t worked (I can’t remember exactly the phrase used and I know it makes difference). So you have to assume that mclaren split the strategies through necessity and not choice. But it was assumed that Lewis was set up to qualify pole but jenson to handle better race pace to suit their usual styles. The fact that jenson beat Hamilton on a drivers circuit suggests it was a combination of both jenson being bang on form and Lewis making some minor errors. A single wing change does not make that amount of difference.

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