Championship leader Mark Webber takes an important pole position at the magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit, setting a time of one minute, 45.778 seconds.
This was Red Bull Racing’s twelfth pole position of the season and the Australian’s fifth. The margin between Webber and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton was less than a tenth of a second following a rain-affected qualifying session.
Robert Kubica will start in third in the F-duct Renault ahead of Sebastian Vettel. As for Fernando Alonso – who was the fastest in Friday’s two practice sessions – the Ferrari driver will line up tenth on the grid.
The Spaniard lost significant time at the damp La Source hairpin and posted a lap time that was 1.6 seconds slower than Hamilton.
Jenson Button was able to improve his grid position despite the rain at the end of Q3 to demote Felipe Massa down to sixth.
Rubens Barrichello will start seventh for Williams, as he celebrates his 300th grand prix, with Force India’s Adrian Sutil joining the race veteran on row four.
This was a bad qualifying session for Mercedes GP as both drivers were hit with grid penalties. Nico Rosberg in particular will lose five places following a gearbox change after the final practice session leading into qualifying.
As for Michael Schumacher, who made that aggressive move on Rubens at the Hungaroring, the seven-time world champion will start the Belgian Grand Prix in P21.
The first session began with most of the grid queuing up at the exit of the pit lane as they anticipated an incoming rain shower. But as the cars negotiated their out laps Renault’s Vitaly Petrov spun into barriers after exiting Turn 9, which brought out the red flag.
The resulting red flag period delayed the session just long enough for a deluge to hit Rivage and Stavelot on the first flying lap.
Lucas di Grassi, Adrian Sutil and Jarno Trulli all went off at Stavelot, while the McLarens of Hamilton and Button left themselves enough clear track to go straight to the top of the timesheet.
Sebastian Vettel had waited in the pits for 45 seconds longer than everyone else and was only P17 – the circuit much wetter by the time he completed his lap.
But as the track dried in the next ten minutes, that allowed the Silver Arrows and Williams to leap into the top five on slicks at the end of Q1.
The Saubers of Kamui Kobayashi and Pedro de la Rosa also went out on slicks hoping to jump up into Q2, but slid off the road at Rivage and Stavelot respectively and were out.
Di Grassi and Petrov were unable to post times after their incidents, and were joined by Sakon Yamamoto, Bruno Senna and Trulli in being eliminated in Q1.
No more rain fell during the second part of qualifying and it was fascinating to see the drivers adopting different tyre strategies to set the quickest time in the damp and yet drying track.
The McLarens once again made the right call and Hamilton’s first flying lap was an impressive 1.7 seconds faster than anyone else. In fact both Lewis and Jenson were the only cars break into the one minute, 46 second barrier.
As for the Red Bulls, Vettel and Webber recorded a reasonable lap time in order to progress into Q3.
Adrian Sutil, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso survived trips off the road early in Q2 but all three were able to take part in the top ten shootout.
The same couldn’t be said to Jaime Alguersuari, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Sebastien Buemi. The trio were eliminated while Heikki Kovalainen pipped Timo Glock to be the quickest of the new teams with P16.
The final qualifying session saw Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber heading the timesheet with an initial pole position that was four tenths of a second faster than anyone else.
Yet again the weather played a role in the proceeding with a small shower hitting the start/finish line as the drivers were heading out for their second runs.
This was a disaster for Fernando Alonso, who had only managed tenth with his first run and wasn’t able to improve. Team-mate Felipe Massa suffered as well, with his car on the dirt exiting Malmedy.
But the McLarens were able to go quicker with Button in particular able to lap in a time of one minute, 46.206 seconds to knock Massa down to P6.
As for Hamilton, he found another four tenths of a second to join Webber on the front row of the grid, but he missed out on that decisive pole by less than a tenth of a second (pole time: one minute, 45.778 seconds).
Despite the set back, Hamilton is in the best position to take the lead from Webber in Sunday’s race thanks to his powerful Mercedes engine and straight line speed advantage with the F-duct system.
Sunday’s race is going to crucial and it will be fascinating if the element of rain will play a factor in this year’s championship battle.
Qualifying times from Spa-Francorchamps:
1. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m45.778s
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m45.863s
3. Kubica Renault 1m46.100s
4. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m46.127s
5. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m46.206s
6. Massa Ferrari 1m46.314s
7. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m46.602s
8. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m46.659s
9. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1m47.053s
10. Alonso Ferrari 1m47.441s
11. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m48.267s
12. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1m48.680s
13. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m49.209s
14. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1m50.980s
15. Rosberg Mercedes 1m47.885s*
16. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m52.049s
17. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 2m01.491s
18. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 2m02.284s
19. Senna HRT-Cosworth 2m03.612s
20. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth 2m03.941s
21. Schumacher Mercedes 1m47.874s**
22. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 2m05.294s
23. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 2m18.754s
24. Petrov Renault no time
*Five-place penalty for a gearbox change
**Ten-place penalty for illegitimately impeding a rival driver during the Hungarian Grand Prix.