Sebastian Vattel has claimed his eighth pole position of the season with another commanding qualifying display in what was an incident-filled session ahead of tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix.
The German provisionally shares the front row with Lewis Hamilton, who survived a controversial wheel-banging incident with Pastor Maldonado at the end of the second phase of qualifying. Birthday boy Mark Webber – who also announced a one-year contract extension with Red Bull today – starts from third.
The field was yet again faced with challenging wet/dry conditions over the course of the three-part session, with the changeable conditions set to deliver a few surprise results up and down the field.
And there were some leading lights who found the coin toss not landing in their favour. Despite his unexpected session-topping performance in first practice, Michael Schumacher’s twentieth anniversary celebration didn’t continue into qualifying when the German’s Mercedes shed its right-rear wheel at Rivage during Q1. The seven-time World Champion was out of the action on the spot, and will start from the rear of the grid.
Paul di Resta was another driver to be eliminated at the first hurdle, with his Force India team calling him into the pits on the assumption that he’d done enough to make it into Q2, only to find himself beaten in the final seconds by Heikki Kovalainen, who demoted the Scot to 18th-fastest.
Despite being comfortably fastest in the opening phase of qualifying, Jenson Button was another candidate to find himself having an early bath, lining up 13th on the grid after being unable to improve his first lap time of the session.
Adrian Sutil capped off Force India’s tough weekend with a heavy crash at Eau Rouge, brought about by taking too much kerb as his car crested the sweeper. He will start from 15th place for tomorrow’s race.
But it was at the end of the session that the greatest talking point took place. Pastor Maldonado found himself held up by Kovalainen’s Lotus approaching the Bus Stop chicane, and Hamilton – desperate to ensure he would make it into Q3 – slide up the inside and made light contact with the Williams driver as he went for the apex of the corner.
The Venezuelan was none too happy about this, and as the pack headed on their in-laps after the session had concluded, he deliberately swerved into the McLaren’s path as they toured towards Eau Rouge. Hamilton sustained minor damage to his McLaren – only some of which was repaired ahead of the final qualifying session, making his final grid slot all the more impressive.
Maldonado found himself earning further sanctions from the stewards, getting hit with a very soft five-place grid penalty for an appalling retaliation.
With all the action preceding it, the final top-ten shootout comprised a few unfamiliar faces, with both Renaults, Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso and Sergio Pérez’s Sauber joining both Red Bulls and Ferraris, as well as Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
The final session saw the track dry enough for the pack to attempt a hot lap on slick tyres, and it was Vettel who claimed pole by just under half a second from Hamilton, with Webber and Felipe Massa completing the second row.
Rosberg claimed fifth on the grid, while Alguersuari was a revelation and took a career-best sixth (Toro Rosso’s best qualifying performance since the 2008 Italian Grand Prix), while Bruno Senna did likewise to claim seventh-fastest in his first race outing as Nick Heidfeld’s replacement.
Fernando Alonso will be disappointed to line up eighth-fastest, while Pérez and Vitaly Petrov complete the top ten.
2011 Belgian Grand Prix – Qualifying Session Times:
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault||2:03.029||2:03.317||1:48.298|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes||2:03.008||2:02.823||1:48.730|
|3.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault||2:02.827||2:03.302||1:49.376|
|5.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP||2:05.091||2:03.723||1:50.552|
|6.||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso Ferrari||2:05.419||2:04.561||1:50.773|
|9.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari||2:06.284||2:04.625||1:51.374|
|11.||Sébastien Buemi||Toro Rosso Ferrari||2:04.744||2:04.692|
|12.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari||2:07.194||2:04.757|
|13.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes||2:01.813||2:05.150||1:20.024|
|14.||Rubens Barrichello||Williams Cosworth||2:05.720||2:07.349|
|15.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes||2:06.000||2:07.777||1:21.445|
|16.||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus Renault||2:06.780||2:08.354|
|17.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes||2:07.758|
|18.||Jarno Trulli||Team Lotus Renault||2:08.773|
|19.||Timo Glock||Virgin Racing Cosworth||2:09.566|
|107% CUT-OFF TIME||2:10.339|
|20.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Virgin Racing Cosworth||2:11.601|
|21.||Pastor Maldonado*||Williams Cosworth||2:05.621||2:08.106|
|22.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Cosworth||2:11.616|
|23.||Daniel Ricciardo||HRT F1 Cosworth||2:13.077|
|24.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP||no time|
* Denotes a five-place grid penalty for unsportsmanlike driving
[Image via Sutton Images and Formula1.com]