Belgian GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Timing Was Everything
Timing was everything when it came to winning the pole for the Belgian Grand Prix. A wet but drying track meant that the drivers who were out there last ended up being at the front as the circuit got quicker and quicker in the final couple of minutes.
Lewis Hamilton timed it perfectly to win the pole in his Mercedes. He edged out Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber who both briefly sat on pole.
Rain had been forecast to start about noon, but this is Spa and the weather plays by its own rules. It did not start to rain until 1:50 p.m. which was 10 minutes before qualifying began.
The ambient air temperature at the start of the 60-minute session was 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius), and the track temperature was also 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius.)
The track was slippery and the cars were fitted with intermediate Pirelli rain tires with the green sidewalls. Pastor Maldonado headed the queue of cars waiting in pit lane for the green lights to go on for the session that would eliminate six of the 22 drivers from moving up to Q2.
Maldonado was also the first to go off track as he ran wide at Turn 5.
All 22 drivers were soon on the track and anxious to get a lap time in case the rain got heavier.
As the drivers came around to set their first lap times it was the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton who went to the top of the screens with times of 2:06.865 and 2:07.008 respectively.
The rain eased off and the racing line on the track began to dry off. So everybody stayed out.
8 minutes into the 20 minute session, Sebastian Vettel went quickest with a 2:06.279 while his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber was second with a 2:06.645.
10 minutes into the session, Fernando Alonso turned a 2:06.209 in his Ferrari. Meanwhile, Red Bull radioed Vettel to tell him the track was trying and the question was whether to go with slicks or a new set of intermediates at the end of Q1.
The times kept coming down. Now Rosberg was fastest with a 2:03.883.
15 minutes into the session, the Caterham and Marussia teams gambled on slicks.
With 2 minutes to go, Maldonado, on inters, set a 2:03.072. Paul di Resta beat that with a 2:02.338 and the times kept tumbling as Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber), Mark Webber, Rosberg, Hamilton and Alonso all took turns out front.
The top six at the end of Q1 were: Alonso, Hamilton, Guido van der Garde (Caterham), Rosberg, Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) and Jenson Button (McLaren.)
Marussia drivers Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton both made the cut.
The six drivers eliminated at the end of Q1 were: Maldonado, Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso), Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso), Valtteri Bottas (Williams), Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber) and Charles Pic (Caterham.)
The track was dry enough for slicks as the 15 minute Q2 session began to decide which 10 drivers would be promoted to Q1 and which six would stay behind.
Webber set the first time to aim for: 1:50.128 running on the hard compound slick.
With 8 minutes remaining in the session, Alonso moved into second with a 1:50.085, and then Raikkonen clocked a 1:49.323.
With 3 minutes remaining in the session, Vettel took over the top spot with a 1:49.833. Alonso and Webber beat that with 1:48.309 and 1:48.641 respectively. But Raikkonen answered with a 1:48.296.
The six drivers eliminated at the end of Q2 were: Hulkenberg, Adrian Sutil (Force India), Sergio Perez (McLaren), van der Garde, Bianchi and Chilton.
The top six at the end of Q2 were: Raikkonen, Alonso, Rosberg, Webber, Button and Vettel.
A dry track awaited the 10 drivers in the 10-minute shootout.
Webber got the ball rolling and led the string of cars out. Rain was reported in Turns 14, 15 and 16. And it started to fall elsewhere on the track as well. Everybody headed to the pits for intermediate tires except di Resta who was already on those tires.
Di Resta set the first time: 2:02.332. And now the rain was getting very heavy on some parts of the track. Massa posted the next time: 2:04.059.
Webber went third, then Hamilton took the spot, then Rosberg moved into second.
It looked like di Resta had the pole locked, but now the track was drying. Rosberg took first with a 2:02.251. Then Webber with a 2:01.325, then Vettel with a 2:01.200, then finally Hamilton with a time of 2:01.012.
The order of the top 10 ended up as: Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Rosberg, di Resta (equaling his career-best fifth grid spot), Button, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Alonso and Massa.