Vettel takes Spa pole as Maldonado loses the plot


To varying degrees, all three practice sessions this weekend have been hit by the weather. Nonetheless, based on what we've seen so far, it looks as the form book is the same as it was before the summer break, with Red Bull and McLaren leading Ferrari.

Fernando Alonso didn't post a time this morning, but it is believed that Ferrari, like several other teams, including McLaren, is aiming to save tyres should the bad weather continue.

While Mark Webber was quickest this morning, just as he was in yesterday's second session, we could be in for a few surprises this afternoon. Other than the possibility of a car other than a Red Bull taking pole for the first time this season, there is widespread speculation as to whether some of the big guns will fall at the first hurdle this afternoon.

Though it has stopped raining since the end of free practice the track remains damp and twenty-five minutes before the start of Q1 Ferrari is claiming that further rain will hit the track round about the time the lights go green.

Five minutes before the session gets underway, the air temperature is 18 degrees C, while the track temperature is 20 degrees. It remains exceedingly cool and while there have been a few spots of rain there has been nothing serious… yet. With an eyes on the skies however, it is likely that everyone will be keen to get to work as soon as possible in order to get that all important banker lap in.

As a traffic jam forms at the end of the pitlane, Ferrari claims that when the rain hits it will be at Les Combes and Stavelot.

The lights go green and as Alguersuari is told to push because of the incoming rain, Schumacher hits the barriers on the straight leading to Pouhon his right-rear wheel missing. Not the ideal way to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of his F1 debut. A curious accident which appeared to be the result of a technical failure, indeed his wheel coming off was the cause of the accident. The big question being, why did his wheel fall off?

Buemi posts the first time of the afternoon, the Swiss crossing the line at 2:11.806. Button goes second ahead of Alguersuari and d'Ambrosio.

A 2:09.506 sees Hamilton take the top spot as Alonso goes second and Vettel eleventh.

While parts of the track are bathed in sunshine and drying, others are very, very wet.

Senna posts 2:10.625 to go fourth, ahead of Maldonado, however, moments later it's business as usual as Webber goes quickest (2:06.872) and Vettel second. The Force Indias go third and fourth, both drivers having looked impressive this weekend.

No sooner has Button been told that it will be dry for the remainder of the session, Massa is told that rain is five minutes away.

Button splits the Red Bulls with a 2:07.195 as Alonso goes fifth ahead of Senna. Both Williams in the danger zone along with the Virgins and HRTs.

Webber ups the ante with a 2:04.481 only to be eclipsed by Hamilton's 2:04.240 moments later. Barrichello improves to fourteenth and Maldonado sixteenth.

Button goes quickest in S1 as the camera shows some very menacing clouds moving in. The Englishman goes quickest with a 2:03.882 however, his teammate bangs in a 2:03.008 to re-take the top spot. Alonso goes third (2:04.450), ahead of Webber, Vettel and Massa.

Next time around Button posts 2:01.813 as Petrov improves to seventh, just behind his new Renault teammate. Drivers running on to the wet patches in an attempt to cool their inters.

The Williams duo improve to ninth (Maldonado) and tenth, as Massa drops to twelfth and di Resta seventeenth. Elsewhere, Rosberg overshoots Les Combes as a Virgin fails to notice him in its mirrors.

A spin in the final chicane sees di Resta fail to improve, however, the Scot has one more lap, as does Kovalainen who would desperately love to make it to Q2. A superb middle sector sees the Lotus driver post a 2:06.780 which is enough to take sixteenth. Di Resta drops to eighteenth and thereby falls at the first hurdle.

Quickest was Button, ahead of Webber, Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Buemi, Senna, Rosberg, Petrov and Alguersuari.

We lose di Resta, Trulli, Glock, d'Ambrosio, Liuzzi, Ricciardo and, of course, Schumacher.

As the lights go green for Q2 there is light rain falling, as in Q1 the Toro Rossos lead the way. In no time at all, all but Kovalainen are on track.

Alguersuari posts a 2:10.471 but this is quickly beaten by his teammate who crosses the line at 2:09.421. However, Button's 2:07.332 gets the session seriously underway, with Webber going second and Hamilton third.

Vettel posts a 2:07.085 to take his usual place in the order (first) as Kovalainen obstinately waits in the Lotus garage.

More misery for Force India who loses it on the (wet) kerbing at Raidillon and clouts the barriers. There will be no orange, green and white cars in Q3 today.

A minute or so after the incident, the session is red flagged due to the amount of debris on the track - just as Hamilton had gone quickest in Q1.

Though there is 6:53 on the clock, should it start raining again it would be an absolute nightmare, certainly for those drivers currently in the danger zone - and that includes Alonso.

As the session resumes, the Toro Rossos, yet again, head the traffic jam. Senna is told that with less than seven minutes remaining he must be on the pace from the very start.

As the rain begins falling harder, and stuck in a whole heap of traffic, Alonso is far from happy. His mood is not helped when he gets all out of shape at La Source at the start of what should be his first flying lap.

Buemi goes quickest with a 2:06.310 but is quickly beaten by Alonso, Button and then Webber (2:04.542). Moments later however, Vettel bangs in a 2:03.317. Both Williams in the danger zone, as is Rosberg.

Rosberg posts 2:05.534 to go fourth as Hamilton slips down to twelfth. However, the Englishman goes quickest in S1. Despite traffic (the Williams duo), Hamilton goes quickest (2:02.823), the McLaren driver getting up close and personal with Maldonado in the process.

Massa makes a last gasp improvement to seventh as Senna goes sixth. Moment later, Alonso goes quickest with a 2:02.768 which drops Button to thirteenth and out of the session.

More drama however, as Maldonado moves across on Hamilton and clouts the McLaren on the run down from La Source. "That was deliberate," the Englishman tells his crew, and it certainly appeared to be. Disgraceful behaviour from the Venezuelan.

Quickest was Alonso, ahead of Hamilton, Webber, Vettel, Petrov, Rosberg, Senna, Massa, Alguersuari and Perez.

We lose Buemi, Kobayashi, Button, Barrichello, Sutil, Maldonado and Kovalainen.

Ahead of Q3, the big question, other than who will take pole, is whether Hamilton's car will be repaired in time. That, and what sort of punishment will be meted out to Maldonado.

Perez is first out for Q3, quickly followed by Alonso, Webber and Massa. Both Ferraris on soft (dry) tyres. Rosberg is on inters but subsequently pits for slicks.

Massa runs wide and takes a trip through the gravel as Hamilton (softs) is the last driver to come out.

Alonso posts the first time of the session (1:54.550) but this is soon beaten by Webber (53.798). Massa goes second and Vettel fourth.

All eyes on Hamilton, who McLaren features a significant amount of gaffa tape.

Alguersuari goes fifth, but is demoted when Perez posts 52.896 to go quickest.

Webber takes provisional pole with a 50.875 as Hamilton goes second. Moments later Vettel leapfrogs the McLaren driver with a 51.239.

While Vettel goes quickest in S1 of the next lap, Webber goes quickest in S2. Rosberg also on a very hot lap.

Webber ups the ante with a 49.376 but Vettel beats it with a 49.180. Hamilton improves with a 49.647 but this is only good enough for third. Rosberg goes fifth (51.315).

While Alonso improves to sixth, Hamilton takes pole with a 48.730 only to be denied moments later when Vettel hits back with a 48.298.

As Vettel waves to the crowd, Senna improves to seventh, thereby demoting Alonso to eighth.

Therefore, once again we have a Red Bull on pole, Sebastian Vettel taking his ninth of the season. Hamilton will start second, ahead of Webber, Massa, Rosberg, Alguersuari, Senna, Alonso, Perez and Petrov.

Looking at the bare facts the casual observer will look at the order and come to the conclusion that today's session was business as usual, but they'd be wrong. It was a tantalising session, and while Vettel, Hamilton and Webber's classification suggests the old order will still rule tomorrow, Rosberg, Alguersuari and Senna suggest they'll have their hands full tomorrow.

A highly entertaining session which sets us up perfectly for what will hopefully be a thrilling race tomorrow. The only question being will Pastor Maldonado be a part of it?

To check out our Spa qualifying gallery, click here.

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Published: 27/08/2011
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