Lewis Hamilton has managed to pip reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel to pole, after an incredibly frenetic wet/dry qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix. At first it looked set to be Paul di Resta’s maiden pole, but the track conditions improved and allowed the usual suspects to rise back to the top.
After a dry start to the day for the third and final practice session, the heavens opened only minutes before the start of the all-important qualifying hour. With the sudden change in weather conditions, the majority of the field elected to queue at the end of the pit-lane. Pastor Maldonado eventually led the field out onto the track as the session began, with the entire field immediately taking to the track in a bid to produce a banker lap should the conditions fail to improve.
During his first timed lap, the Venezuelan driver ran extensively wide at Turns 5 and 6, after out-braking himself in the inclement weather conditions. Charles Pic also made a minor error at Turn 1, as the Marussia duo of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton nearly collided at Turn 18 in what was a frenetic start to the qualifying hour. Due to his earlier mistake Pastor Maldonado produced a slow 02:12.831, which was quickly thwarted by the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne with a 02:08.447. Lewis Hamilton and then Nico Rosberg momentarily rose to the top for Mercedes, with the latter producing a 02:06.865. Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi ran wide at Turn 3 as the opening segment of qualifying continued, as did Kimi Raikkonen who out-broke himself at Turn 18.
As the rain began to ease around the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Sebastian Vettel once again asserted his authority over proceedings with a 02:06.279. Despite the slightly improved conditions, Lewis Hamilton still made a mistake through Turns 5 and 6 which saw him cut the corner after out-braking himself. Fernando Alonso stormed to the top for Ferrari with a 02:06.209, before the Mercedes duo once again improved with Nico Rosberg eventually returning to the top with a 02:03.883.
Giedo van der Garde and Max Chilton became the first drivers to opt for the medium tyre compound, which saw them produce rather slow opening laps as the track still continued to dry out. Pastor Maldonado rose up to the top with a 02:03.072, with Valtteri Bottas a close 2nd which momentarily created a Williams 1-2. Paul di Resta ended the Williams’ party, rising to the top with a 02:02.338 as the track continued to evolve. As the opening segment of qualifying drew to a conclusion, times at the top tumbled in frenetic style as the likes of Nico Hulkenberg, Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton rose to the top with the latter producing a 02:00.368 for the German marque.
Paul di Resta spun at Turns 18 and 19, rejoining the circuit and narrowly avoiding a collision with a Marussia in the process. Fernando Alonso returned to the top for Ferrari with a 02:00.190, as attention towards the back of the pack increased immensely when Giedo van der Garde catapulted his Caterham into 3rd position with a scintillating 02:00.564. Further down the order Jules Bianchi managed to rise to 11th for Marussia, along with his team-mate Max Chilton who only just scraped through in 16th.
After an absolutely frenetic opening 20 minutes to the qualifying session, a rather different looking bottom six was eliminated including Pastor Maldonado, Jean-Eric Vergne, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutierrez and Charles Pic.
The second segment of qualifying began with Nico Hulkenberg, Mark Webber and Jules Bianchi becoming the first drivers to return to the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. The Sauber driver produced the initial benchmark with a 01:51.193, which was instantly bettered by the Red Bull of Mark Webber with a 01:50.128. The Lotus duo of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen slotted into 2nd and 3rd respectively, before Fernando Alonso asserted his authority over proceedings once again with a 01:50.085. The Spaniard failed to remain at the top for long, before Mark Webber and then Kimi Raikkonen continued to lower the time at the top with the Finn producing a 01:49.323. Romain Grosjean slotted into 2nd position, creating a Lotus 1-2 with four minutes of the session remaining.
Lewis Hamilton could only manage 2nd on his first of the segment, before reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel returned to the top with an impressive 01:48.833. Nico Hulkenberg rose Sauber into 2nd position as the second segment progressed, before Mark Webber and then Fernando Alonso lowered the benchmark even further, with the latter producing a 01:48.309. As the checkered flag fluttered signaling the end of the session, Kimi Raikkonen stormed to the top for Lotus with a 01:48.296.
In traditional qualifying format many within the drop zone improved at the last minute, including the likes of Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean and Jenson Button. This saw Lewis Hamilton only just avoid elimination in 10th, as Nico Hulkenberg, Adrian Sutil, Sergio Perez, Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton were eliminated from proceedings after a highly impressive opening segment.
After two highly frenetic and entertaining segments of qualifying around Spa-Francorchamps, the all-important top ten shootout had all of the ingredients of being a mouth-watering spectacle. And that it certainly was, as the entire field immediately spilled onto the circuit just as the heavens opened once again. As the field rounded the back of the circuit and negotiated the high-speed Blanchimont section, the spray increased, as the Lotus duo nearly collided. The majority of the drivers naturally returned to the pits as the rain intensified for intermediates, unlike Paul di Resta who elected to brave the elements and remain out on track.
The Scotsman bravely negotiated the increasingly tricky weather conditions, producing a 02:02.332. As the remainder of the field retook to the circuit on intermediate tyres, the final sector and the start/finish straight was doused in heavy rain. This prevented the field from disposing of Paul di Resta, as the likes of Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg went 2nd and 3rd, several tenths off of his pace. However, Paul di Resta and Force India’s party was ruined in the latter stages as the checkered flag emerged, as Nico Rosberg pipped the Briton with a 02:02.251.
Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton just managed to cross the line to continue for one more flying lap, which put Nico Rosberg and Paul di Resta’s advantage in severe jeopardy. As the trio eventually crossed the line, Mark Webber and then Sebastian Vettel momentarily returned proceedings to normality with a provisional front-row lock-out. However, the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton had other ideas and stormed across the line with a blitzing 11th hour lap to secure his fourth successive pole position. The former World Champion will start the race alongside Championship rival Sebastian Vettel, with the second row consisting of Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg.
This grid presents the world of Formula 1 with the prospect of a highly entertaining Belgian Grand Prix, which could well receive rain interference throughout the 44-lap race. Lewis Hamilton clearly has ambitions on catching Sebastian Vettel in the Championship during the latter half of the season, which could well begin with victory tomorrow afternoon.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2m01.012s 2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 2m01.200s + 0.188s 3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 2m01.325s + 0.313s 4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 2m02.251s + 1.239s 5. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 2m02.332s + 1.320s 6. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 2m03.075s + 2.063s 7. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 2m03.081s + 2.069s 8. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 2m03.390s + 2.378s 9. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 2m03.482s + 2.470s 10. Felipe Massa Ferrari 2m04.059s + 3.047s Q2 cut-off time: 1m49.088s Gap ** 11. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m49.088s + 0.792s 12. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m49.103s + 0.807s 13. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m49.304s + 1.008s 14. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m52.036s + 3.740s 15. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m52.563s + 4.267s 16. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m52.762s + 4.466s Q1 cut-off time: 2m02.948s Gap * 17. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 2m03.072s + 2.882s 18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2m03.300s + 3.110s 19. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2m03.317s + 3.127s 20. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 2m03.432s + 3.242s 21. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 2m04.324s + 4.134s 22. Charles Pic
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