Lewis Hamilton took pole for Mercedes in a dramatic, rain-swept qualifying session at Spa-Francorchamps.
Four drivers held pole position in the last few seconds of qualifying for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix. With spray flying up from the wet track, Nico Rosberg’s stellar effort for Mercedes gave him a provisional pole but team-mate Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel had made it across the line just before the chequered flag appeared, giving the huge Spa-Francorchamps crowd an exciting two minutes, waiting to see if they could knock the Monaco and Silverstone winner off top spot.
Conditions possibly improved in those last two minutes, though any gain was marginal. Webber crossed the line first and took P1. He held it for seconds only, however, as Vettel blasted through and took a tenth out of his time. For the briefest instant it was the Red Bull 1-2 that practice pace had suggested – but then Hamilton arrived to take his fifth pole of the season and fourth in succession. His time of 2:01.012 was two-tenths of a second better than Vettel had managed.
“I feel I’m able to find the limits when the conditions are really on the edge,” said a jubilant Hamilton. “I pushed quite a lot in the middle sector particularly as I thought I was down three seconds, so I was really caning it.”
At the start of Q3, there was a degree of chaos with most of the field going out on Option tyres. With drops of rain already falling, it was a gamble – and one that failed to pay off with the slick runners all returning to the pits at the end of their out lap. “It was quite entertaining because it started to rain pretty heavily,” observed Vettel.
The one exception was Paul di Resta. Starting the session on intermediates he had the track to himself and took P1 by default. With the possibility of conditions worsening, he had an excellent chance of repeating Giancarlo Fisichella’s 2009 feat and taking a Force India pole at Spa – but the rain receded and he had to settle for fifth position.
Behind Di Resta, Jenson Button took sixth for McLaren, ahead of Lotus’s Romain Grosjean and Kimi Räikkönen who took seventh and eighth, while row five was an all-Ferrari affair with Fernando Alonso ninth and Felipe Massa tenth.
Qualifying had taken place in mixed conditions from the start: rain began to fall a few minutes before Q1 began. It was no surprise, though, as the radar had been showing the weather on its way for some time. It meant the session began on intermediate tyres but when the rain ceased partway through the 20minutes, the track began to dry quickly. Backmarkers with nothing to lose took a risk and ventured out on dry tyres. It paid dividends for the Marussia pair of Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi who qualified for their first Q2. Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde also made the cut. Eliminated were the Williams of Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas, Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo from Toro Rosso, Sauber’s Esteban Gutiérrez and Caterham’s Charles Pic.
Q2 was dry and saw the times drop by over ten seconds. With three drivers out of position and unlikely to challenge for a place in Q3, the battle was essentially between 13 cars competing for ten places. In a hard-fought battle the drivers to drop out were Nico Hülkenberg for Sauber in 11th, Force India’s Adrian Sutil in 12th and McLaren’s Sergio Pérez 13th. They were joined by Van der Garde 14th, Bianchi 15th and Chilton 16th, each of the latter three enjoying a career-best qualifying position.
2013 Belgian Grand Prix qualifying times
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2:01.012
2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 2:01.200
3 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 2:01.325
4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 2:02.251
5 Paul di Resta Force India 2:02.332
6 Jenson Button McLaren 2:03.075
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus 2:03.081
8 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 2:03.390
9 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 2:03.482
10 Felipe Massa Ferrari 2:04.059
11 Nico Hülkenberg Sauber 1:49.088
12 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:49.103
13 Sergio Pérez McLaren 1:49.304
14 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:52.036
15 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:52.563
16 Max Chilton Marussia 1:52.762
17 Pastor Maldonado Williams 2:03.072
18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 2:03.300
19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 2:03.317
20 Valtteri Bottas Williams 2:03.432
21 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 2:04.324
22 Charles Pic Caterham 2:07.384