Jenson Button recorded his first pole position for McLaren with a fantastic performance in a dramatic qualifying session.
After racing with the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team for three seasons, the 2009 world champion finally achieved the top grid result after 50 races. His last pole was at Monaco in his championship-winning year.
His lap around the challenging Spa-Francorchamps track was impressive one minute, 47.573 seconds.
Kamui Kobayashi claimed his maiden front-row start as he underlined Sauber’s speed with an amazing second position, while world champion Sebastian Vettel was unable to go any further than Q2.
Button put himself eight tenths clear of the 24-car field for much of Q2, then repeated that sheer pace to deliver a one minute, 47.686 seconds early in Q3.
One of the few drivers to do two runs, Jenson found even more time at the second attempt and delivered the ultimate pole position lap.
Kobayashi was three tenths adrift as he secured his career-best Formula One start, while his team-mate Sergio Perez also shone in fifth position.
After setting the pace in Q1, Pastor Maldonado was another star underdog as he took third for Williams. Although an impeding incident involving the 12th-place qualifier Nico Hulkenberg is under investigation.
Pre-race favourite Lotus could only managed fourth with Kimi Raikkonen and ninth with Romain Grosjean. The latter had a few scary moments just getting out of Q1 following a mistake and traffic issues with an HRT.
World championship leader Fernando Alonso could not repeat his FP3 performance and will start in sixth position.
As one McLaren took pole, the other was only eighth quickest, although Lewis Hamilton will gain a place when Mark Webber’s Red Bull is demoted five places from seventh due to a gearbox change penalty.
Force India’s Paul di Resta completed the top ten at Spa-Francorchamps.
Vettel was the most significant incident during a close Q2. Just two tenths separated him from his team-mate Webber, but that translated to seven positions, as last year’s Spa pole sitter and race winner ended up only P11, 0.012 seconds off a Q3 spot.
He was not the only big name to miss out. Felipe Massa trailed behind the sister Ferrari of Alonso by seven tenths as he struggled to P14. While Michael Schumacher, competing in his 300th Formula One race, could only qualify in P13 for Mercedes.
Already carrying a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change following FP3, Nico Rosberg was only P18 in qualifying after crossing the line moments too late for a final Q1 run.
Rosberg’s disappointment meant both Toro Rossos reached Q2, where they beat the Williams of Bruno Senna. The Brazilian pulled off an incredible save after sliding sideways across the kerbs through most of Pouhon, then had to pit for repairs and could not get above P17 when he rejoined.
While at the back, Timo Glock used Marussia’s upgrades to get a little closer to the Caterhams, but his team-mate Charles Pic was beaten to P22 by Pedro de la Rosa’s HRT.
Grid positions at Spa-Francorchamps:
1. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m47.573s
2. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m47.871s
3. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m47.893s
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m48.205s
5. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m48.219s
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m48.313s
7. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m48.394s
8. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m48.538s
9. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m48.890s
10. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m49.722s
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m49.362s
12. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m48.392s*
13. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m49.742s
14. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m49.588s
15. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m49.763s
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m49.572s
17. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m49.958s
18. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m51.739s
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m51.967s
20. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m52.336s
21. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m53.030s
22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m53.493s
23. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m50.181s*
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m54.989s
107 per cent time: 1m56.622s
*Five-place grid penalty for gearbox change