Belgian GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
First McLaren pole for Button!
Twelve years ago, Jenson Button served notice of his special talent when he qualified third on his first visit to Spa in an F1 car. He outqualified both Schumachers -- defending champion Michael's Ferrari and team mate Ral's Williams.
Since then, he has not enjoyed the best of fortune at Spa and after a number of difficult 2012 qualifying sessions, often struggling with the balance, it was a bit of a surprise to see the 2009 world champion take a decisive pole for the Belgian GP, by fully three tenths (1:47.573).
"This is a special circuit for all of us and to get a pole position here is great," Button said. "It's been a while ..." His last pole position, in fact, was Monaco 2009 for Brawn.
"The car had been working really well all day and we just tickled it through qualifying. I've got a style that makes it difficult to find a balance that works for me in qualifying, but when we do I can get pole position."
Spa is something of a set-up conundrum with a trade-off between low downforce and high speed in sectors one and three, which facilitates overtaking in the race, and high downforce which helps in the long, fast, twisty sector two, and is often considered better for ultimate lap time.
Not today though, with Button achieving his pole with the low dowforce set-up which should help in the race, provided he doesn't overheat his rubber in sector two. Team mate Lewis Hamilton went the high downforce route and could only manage eighth, some 0.82s adrift of Button. That will become seventh when a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change is applied to seventh placed Mark Webber.
If Button's pole was a surprise, second and third on the grid were bigger ones: Kamui Kobayashi's Sauber (1:47.871) and Pastor Maldonado's Williams (1:47.893).
Kobayashi became the first Japanese driver to qualify on the front row for a grand prix since Takuma Sato achieved the feat in the 2004 European GP at Nurburgring.
"We expected our car to be good here but we didn't expect to be second because while we are strong in the race it has not been so good in qualifying so far," Kobayashi admitted. "It would be nice to be on the podium tomorrow."
Maldonado, of course, showed this sort of pace in winning in Barcelona.
"I saw the potential in Q1, then we were nearly out in Q2, P10, but then I got a clean lap and the maximum out of the car in Q3," he explained.
Kimi Raikkonen (1:48.205) has looked strong throughout, especially in sector two and will start the race fourth, ahead of Sergio Perez (1:48.219), who underlined just what a strong car the Sauber is around Spa.
Championship leader Fernando Alonso (1:48.313) had to be content with sixth, while Webber (1:48.392) was quicker of the Red Bull challengers as Sebastian Vettel failed to make it out of Q2! The defending champion will start the race 10th thanks to his team mate's gearbox misfortune.
Hamilton was just a couple of thousandths behind Webber's time and 0.14s clear of Romain Grosjean (1:48.538) in the second Lotus. Paul Di Resta's Force India (1:48.890) completed the top 10.
It was a bad day for Mercedes, who had Michael Schumacher qualify 13th, while a miscommunication with Nico Rosberg saw him miss the chequered flag and maroon himself in Q1. His 18th place will become 23rd following the addition of a gearbox penalty.