Vettel takes daring pole at Spa
Sebastian Vettel has perpetuated Red Bull’s Saturday dominance with a dazzling pole position in Belgium.
After an afternoon of rain, conditions were slowly coming to the cars, so much so that the teams dared to fit slick tyres from the beginning of Q3.
Lap times subsequently dropped rapidly into the low 1m 50s, with Webber setting the early pace with a 1m 53.798 seconds. Within a lap the track improved by several seconds, with the Australian bettering his own time to 50.875 seconds.
Pole would come from his teammate, however, who posted a 1m 48.298 seconds on the subsequent circulation, continuing Red Bull’s 100 per cent qualifying record this season.
‘It was a difficult session all in all,’ said the German after taking his ninth pole of the season.
‘I rediscovered Spa in a way and found better lines that I did all weekend. It was a very good lap, I was very happy with the car towards the end in the dry.
‘All in all I was very happy. Not an easy session with the conditions changing all the time. Here, anything is possible.’
Hamilton: not happy
Lewis Hamilton’s slightly damaged McLaren split the Red Bulls, only five-tenths slower than the championship leader.
Mark Webber, despite holding pole for a significant part of Q3, will start from P3 tomorrow, a further half-a-second back off the pace.
‘It was a close session. I think we probably went a bit too hard on the slicks initially,’ reflected the Australian, who celebrated his 35th birthday today.
‘We probably could have built up a little bit slower. It’s easy, we’ve had a very good smooth weekend, it’s very easy to end up like JB, out of position.
‘But we’re in the hunt tomorrow for sure.’
It was the rookie Pastor Maldonado, however, who caused the session’s biggest stir after he appeared to deliberately swipe the side of Lewis Hamilton’s car after a squabble in the dying moments of Q2.
Maldonado in hot water
‘As I coming into the exit of turn 1 I saw Maldonado approaching quite quickly. I didn’t move anywhere but he swiped across the front of me,’ recalled Hamilton.
‘The front wing was quite badly damage. I think my front suspension was damaged. But fortunately the guys did a great job to put it back together.’
‘I have to look at it afterwards.’
Maldonado’s fate is yet to be decided by the stewards, with many expecting a disqualification for his indiscretions.
Felipe Massa was the highest placed Ferrari in P4, just ahead of Nico Rosberg and Jaime Alguersuari in fifth and sixth.
Bruno Senna made an impressive debut for Renault after his accident-prone day on Friday to qualify in P7, three places ahead of teammte Petrov in P10.
Slotted between them were Alonso in a disappointing P8 and Perez in P9.
Predictions of a wet Saturday proved fruitful and, despite the sun poking through the heavy cloud cover during the session, Q1 demanded that all cars opted for intermediate tyres.
The damp Spa-Francorchamps circuit claimed its first victim early, with Michael Schumacher dropping his Mercedes at the Rivage hairpin after appearing to his rear right tyre, forcing the veteran into an early exit on the 20th anniversary of his career. He’ll start from last tomorrow.
Schumacher to start from last
Conditions continued to improve throughout the session, with a clear dry line emerging before the session ended. No driver was prepared to bank on their time, with all the cars posting additional laps within the final five minutes in a bid to avoid dropping out in the first 20 minutes.
Button would be the one to maximise the pace of the intermediate rubber by posting a lap of 2m 01.813 seconds to claim Q1 honours.
After Michael Schumacher, the second surprise addition to the Q1 drop zone was Paul di Resta. A mistake on his penultimate fast lap at the bus stop chicane left him vulnerable to Heikki Kovalinen, who duly slotted his Lotus into 16th place, eliminating the Scot.
Di Resta joined Trulli, d’Ambrosio, Ricciardo, Liuzzi, Glock and Schumacher as the seven slowest cars to be eliminated at the end of the session. The bottom four will rely on the stewards to enter tomorrow’s Grand Prix, as none posted times within 107 per cent rule.
The beginning of Q2 saw each of the 16 remaining drivers attempting to set a lap in the semi-dry conditions, as rain was beginning to fall again on parts of the track.
As the rain intensified, Adrian Sutil became the day’s second causality after he took too much kerb on the exit of Raidillon and made contact with the barrier. The debris he scattered across the track forced a red flag with under seven minutes remaining.
The resumption saw 12 of the car queue in the pit lane, not wanting to lose any unnecessary time upon the resumption of the session.
To make matters worse, the cars had to negotiate the heavy qualifying traffic as the rain became heavier, evident from the spray being kicked up by the cars.
The last minute dash saw a rapid change of order in the time sheets, ultimately catching out Button who was eliminated in 13th place, behind Perez, Buemi and Kobayashi.
The Williams duo of Barrichello and Maldonado would manage only P14 and P16, split by Sutil. Barrichello would cost his teammate time after making a mistake late on his final timed lap, sending the closely-following Venezuelan wide.
It was at this point that Hamilton ducked inside Maldonado to make it over the line ahead to claim his Q3 place. Maldonado went on to swipe the side of Hamilton on their subsequent in-lap.