Belgian GP Qualy: Button back on song
Jenson heads a Sauber and Williams as F1 returns with a bang
Last Updated: September 1, 2012 5:33pm
Welcome back, Jenson Button. An astonishing lap of 1:47.573 didn't just see the Englishman claim pole position for Sunday's Belgian GP but also saw him blow away team-mate Lewis Hamilton in an astonishing qualifying hour at Spa.
Perhaps we should have known better than to expect the expected given 2012's repeated determination to make a mockery of the form book, but rarely can there have been a more unexpected result to a conventional qualifying session than this with Button securing his first pole position in almost three years ahead of Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi and the Williams of Pastor Maldonado - though the controversial South American was subsequently found guilty of holding up Nico Hulkenberg and demoted three places.
What sort of odds would you have been offered on that top three? You wouldn't - because no bookie would have even contemplated such a result. We've had over a month to think about what might await us when F1 finally returned to action but nobody can have foreseen this. 2012 is truly the year of the utterly unexpected.
Stranger still, there was no sense of fluke surrounding the result. Not for the Sauber, which impressed in every one of the three qualy segments, not for the Williams of Maldonado, which had effectively eliminated Sebastian Vettel at the culmination of Q2, and certainly not for Button who set a time good enough to secure pole on three separate occasions during a session he comprehensively dominated.
"It's been so long since my last pole position that it almost feels like a win for me!" a buoyed-up Jenson exclaimed afterwards. "Can I still win the drivers' championship? Yes. We'll take it one day at a time, but hopefully we can get some good points tomorrow."
Perhaps still bristling with indignation at the suggestions aired at the start of weekend that he should play second fiddle to Hamilton's World Championship bid, Button proved to be in a class of his own as he left a host of title contenders in his wake and a frustrated Hamilton to rue the apparent mistake of running a higher downforce configuration than his team-mate.
"Jenson has the new rear wing on, I have the old. We voted to change, didn't work out. I lose 0.4 tenths just on the straight," Hamilton tweeted to his followers - and to the encouragement of any car that will follow in his struggling wake on Sunday.
If Hamilton didn't have already enough cause for concern, Maldonado's retrospective punishment will see the controversial South American - with whom Hamilton has tangled on more than one occasion in the past - start just in front of his McLaren at a cicuit notorious for first-corner shenanigans.
For Red Bull, this was also a chastening day back in the office. With Mark Webber carrying a grid penalty into qualifying following an unscheduled gearbox change on Friday night, the onus was on Vettel to carry the flag for the World Champions but, in vicious contrast to his dominance of a year ago, the German was blown away by the unexpected speed of the two Saubers - Sergio Perez will start fifth, three places behind Kobayashi - and was eliminated in a dramatic culmination to Q2.
Perhaps most ominously of all, there were no discernible problems with the RB8 to account for Vettel's dramatic fall from grace. In short, the Red Bull was simply found to be out of pace when it mattered. "There was no problem, we just weren't quick enough," confirmed a gloomy Vettel. "The car was fine, there was nothing obviously wrong, the speed just wasn't there."
Webber fared better on the road, but the Australian will only start Sunday's race in twelfth after being hit with his second five-place grid demotion in three races.
World Champion leader Fernando Alonso, who will line up ahead of the demoted Maldonado in fifth place, can justifiably regard Saturday as another bullet dodged. The Ferrari, as evidenced by Felipe Massa's failure to reach the top-ten shoot-out, looks to be significantly down on pace compared to its leading rivals, but the Spaniard will be greatly relieved that none of his leading rivals have - so far at least - exploited his performance disadvantage.
As so often seems to be the case, Lotus will only be moderately satisfied with their own performance, with the much-fancied Kimi Raikkonen fourth on the road and Romain Grosjean a net eighth. The Enstone outfit had been widely tipped to excel around Spa's power-hungry confines, but their pace has clearly been negated by the decision not to run their Double DRS device following Friday's downpour. Raikkonen's mistake into the final hairpin was costly but, in terms of catching Button, not significant.
Like everyone else, he had no answer to a driver back in business and back to his best.