Session Of Surprises Climaxes In Button Pole

Heading into the summer break, McLaren and Lewis Hamilton were looking to be the combination to beat. As the sport got back into action following the month-long hiatus which ended at Spa, it was McLaren’s other contender in Jenson Button who stole the headlines on Saturday afternoon. From the start of the qualifying hour, Button topped each of the three sessions, with his quickest time in each being faster than any time that anyone else could manage throughout the session.

In the end, he took pole by over two tenths of a second. Friday’s practice sessions had been of little use to teams as the rain translated into few cars on track. Button said that the team managed to get the car right in Saturday morning’s practice prior to qualifying, the first dry track time available to drivers and teams this weekend. Not usually known for his qualifying form, he commented that when the car is setup to his liking, he can compete:

“[It is] so important to come back after such a long break and come back with such a good result.

“This is as close to winning a grand prix for me since it has been so long.

“We just got the balance right this morning. The car has been working really well all day and in the limited running we have had, every run the balance has been good.

“The balance is to my liking, and I have a style that is difficult to have a car that works for me in qualifying. But when it does I get pole.”

With his first pole position since 2009 now recorded, the focus switches to trying to achieve a maximum race-haul of 25 points in order to cut the 88 point gap between himself and championship leader Fernando Alonso.

“A lot of people ask me if I am still driving for championship,” he said.

“It is a long shot. I am 80 points behind Fernando [Alonso], so I need to be on podium and finish ahead of him every race.

“It is not easy, but this is a good start. But a win is important tomorrow to fight for the championship.”

Kobayashi surprised himself with a superb effort

If Button’s pole was of some surprise then Kamui Kobayashi qualifying alongside him in 2nd place was of major surprise. The Saubers were expected to perform well in Belgium, but the Japanese driver himself was surprised to qualify so well. With his tea-mate Sergio Perez also finishing in the top 5, it was an impressive Saturday for the Swiss team.

“Spa is one of our favourite tracks, but we didn’t expect to be second,” he said.

“Normally we struggle in qualifying and in the race we are not really worried, but this is where we wanted to improve.

“This is our favourite circuit, but we didn’t expect second.

“I think we have a great opportunity for tomorrow so this is really a good restart for the rest of the season. We need to be really strong in qualifying and in this break, the guys did some great work. We had a chat with them and we are happy to be here and confident. It is great.”

Maldonado needs a strong and error-free race following his strong showing in qualifying

In a season of ridiculous or sublime, Pastor Maldonado did well to put his Williams into third on the grid. The Venezuelan has been guilty in recent races of being more than at fault for incidents, but a clean lap ensured a top 3 start for him in the race. The team have found it tough in recent races to show the kind of performance that allowed them to a sensational win at the Spanish Grand Prix, but Maldonado said Williams are on the way back.

“We have been working so hard to understand the car for the second half of the season,” said Maldonado.

“We were struggling this morning a bit with the set-up, but we know where to work with the car now.

“We are happy we know the team can react. We are looking forward to making up for what we lost in the first part of the season.

“We have tried hard to understand all of the problems we have had and we have been working hard analysing, so the spirit is high in the team.”

Shortly after the end of qualifying, it was announced Maldonado was to take a three-place grid drop for blocking Nico Hulkenburg in the first qualifying session (Q1). He now starts from sixth on the grid.

Alonso may not be at the front, but is ahead of all his immediate title rivals

Fortune shined on Fernando Alonso as the Spaniard qualified in sixth position, moving up to fifth following Maldonado’s penalty. Alonso’s title rivals of Webber, Hamilton and Vettel all qualified behind the Spaniard but Alonso insists Ferrari must work to improve their speed and can not rely on rivals making such mistakes again.

“I think the aim is to improve the car because we know one is the gearbox [Webber] and then maybe Hamilton not making the most of the car today,” he said.

“Some circuits are better for some cars and some for others but on that narrow line we are too slow.

“So if we want to win the championship we need to be quicker and improve the car. That is what we have to do now and our maximum concentration and effort is to do so.”

“I think realistically the podium is the maximum target for us,” he said.

“The victory is out of reach I think because we were not quick in qualifying and the distance to Jenson [Button] is a little bit too much so we need to be honest with ourselves and maybe the podium is the maximum target.

“The most important thing is to try and finish in front of the other drivers for the championship and we have a good opportunity because Hamilton, Webber and Vettel start behind us.

“If we can maintain this tomorrow it will be a fantastic Sunday.”

Vettel was bemused following qualifying lowly

A man not so lucky was Sebastian Vettel. His team may have taken a 1-2 at last year’s, but both drivers will need luck on their side for a repeat as both start outside the top six. It did nothing to help his weekend which had already been blighted by a €10,000 fine for practising a race start in the pitlane on Saturday morning. Vettel said his lap had been fine, the car was just lacking in speed.

“I was pretty happy with my lap, it was just not quick enough unfortunately,” he said.

“I missed the last part of qualifying by such a little amount and that’s a shame, but that’s racing. It’s frustrating but it could be the other way around and you are in and somebody else is out.

“But obviously there are no points today and the race is tomorrow.”

Webber may well have smiled after out-qualifying his younger and more accomplished team-mate

His team-mate Mark Webber out-qualified the German by taking seventh but will start behind Vettel due to a penalty for changing his gearbox which sees him drop five places from his original grid slot. Webber said reluctantly that his lap was almost perfectly, but echoed his team-mate in saying the car was not quick enough.

“I’m disappointed. I think that we would like to have been further up the grid, no question about it,” said Webber.

“Not quick enough for us to challenge for the front row, and that obviously knocks the penalty around a little bit more. I would’ve liked to have been further up to take the sting off the penalty.

“I was pretty happy with my lap. The maximum was P5 if I’d got the very most out of it.

“I had some very good sections on the lap and then some other sections where I would’ve liked to have done a little bit better.”

A picture that says many words – it was Hamilton that was in Button’s shadow

Lewis Hamilton suffered from the decision to change rear wings before qualifying, a decision his team-mate Jenson Button did not take. Hamilton found it hard as he could only manage eighth place, and saw Button take pole with the old wing. Hamilton said it would be a long race for himself as the cars around him are setup for the fast straights, as his car is set for the twisty turns.

“It was a disaster for me, but we are still in the top 10 so it is damage limitation for me. It was literally all down to the rear wing,” Hamilton said.

“I was told the difference in wings was not so great, so it is definitely a surprise. I was told that in qualifying my wing would be quicker but for some reason it wasn’t.

“It would be great to be up there fighting for a one-two tomorrow but with the wing I have that is not going to happen. The quick cars will be quick in the race tomorrow.

“Jenson’s wing is working perfectly for him. It’s great for him and I hope he gets maximum points tomorrow.”

Belgian GP Grid

Pos Driver Car
1. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
2. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari
3. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault
4. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari
6. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault
7. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
8. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault
9. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes
10. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes
12. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault
13. Michael Schumacher Mercedes
14. Felipe Massa Ferrari
15. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari
17. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault
18. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault
20. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth
21. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth
22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth
23. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth

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