Spa Qualifying: Button defies the odds and takes his first pole for McLaren
1 September, 2012
Sep.1 (Apex) Take the form book and rip it to shreds! Qualifying for the Belgium Grand Prix, round 12 of the 2012 F1 world championship, as Spa-Francorchamps hosts one of the most unlikely grids in memory with Jenson Button taking pole, from Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi second and third place going to Pastor Maldonado in the Williams.
Button found form just at the right time, he lies over 80 points adrift in the championship points standings and needs to maximise all nine remaining races. He made no mistake as he produced a series of fine laps, two out of the top drawer in Q3 to claim his first pole as a McLaren driver and his first top grid spot start since his championship year.
“It’s been quite a long time since my last pole position back in 2009. It’s been pretty emotional. Sundays have been good over the last few years but not so much Saturdays. It’s been good to come back after such a long break and to do well on the Saturday,” said Button.
Kobayashi relished his best qualifying performance, becoming the first Japanese driver to start from the front row since Takuma Sato started from second, in the European GP at the Nurburgring in 2004. ‘Taki’ said afterwards, “It was a great qualifying for me. Yesterday in practice, we really did struggle a lot but this morning, we improved. We had good confidence in [our chances at] Spa. We expected a good weekend, but not to be second in qualifying. We expected a strong result, so we have a good chance in the race.”
When Maldonado stays out of trouble (although at Spa he was again involved in an incident, this time with Nico Hulkenberg) he tends to be quite brilliant, and again he showed how good he really is.
He said afterwards, “We’ve been working so hard even in the break to try to understand all the problems we had and to solve them for the second half of the season. We understood where to work with the car. This has meant we are competitive.”
Qualifying on a bright sunny day in Belgium was filled with surprises, first of which was the failure of Nico Rosberg to progress beyond Q1 in his Mercedes, his plight not helped by the fact that he only did five laps in the dry during FP3 earlier in the day which resulted in a gearbox change and a five place grid penalty.
Not long after Q2 claimed some huge scalps, including last year’s winner and reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull. Other big hitters who found themselves taking an early shower were: Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) and Felipe Massa (Ferrari) while Bruno Senna (Williams) and Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) would be scratching their heads wondering how their teammates got the better of them.
At the sharp end of proceedings pre-race favourites Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton simply ran out of ammunition when it mattered. Alonso and Raikkonen looked particularly racey up until Q3, but then their challenges faded.
Raikkonen, who has won four times before at Spa, will start from fourth on the grid, with Alonso directly behind him, seeking his first ever F1 win at Spa, sixth on the grid.
Splitting the two world former world champions, and heading up the third row, will be Sergio Perez who also took advantage of the C31′s strong pace around Spa, to set the fifth best time.
What a difference a year makes, ask Red Bull who last year qualified first and third, and went on to dominate the race in Belgium. This year Vettel was an early casualty, while Mark Webber managed the seventh best time but will start from 12th – due to a five place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
No Red Bull in the top ten on the grid is a rarity that will certainly irk the world champions who will take comfort in the fact that a grid place at Spa is perhaps not as important as at most other places they race at.
Webber said, “I think we’d have liked to have been further up the grid, we weren’t fast enough to challenge for the front row. I’d have liked to have been further up to take the sting out of the penalty. In general I think I got enough out of what we have, which at the moment is not enough.”
Hamilton, winner last time out in Hungary, was expected to be the better of the two McLaren drivers at Spa but the script did not go as planned for the 2008 world champion who crashed out of the race last year.
“It has not been a great qualifying session for me. We opted to use an old wing this weekend. After P3, the new one wasn’t feeling so great. We went to the old wing and it was an awful lot slower. I’ll just have to do the best I can. Well done to Jenson, It was a great start for the second part of the season for him. I will try and do as best I can to back Jenson up tomorrow,” said Hamilton.
Romain Grosjean was unable to match his more experienced Lotus teammate, as he has on several previous occasions, setting the ninth best time and will thus start from eighth on the grid thanks to Webber’s demotion.
Force India’s Paul Di Resta was tenth fastest in the session and will start ninth; he summed up his afternoon, “I think we would have taken that coming into the weekend, this morning I was quite surprised where we were running in the top 10. We’ve put ourselves in the position to fight for points in the race tomorrow. It’s very clear where our car struggles on this track, we’re about a sector off in the middle sector, we’re struggling for balance. That’s all we’ve got.”
Next up was Vettel (11th), Hulkenberg (12th), Schumacher (13th), and Massa (14th)…
A final word to McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh: “Jenson did a great lap. He struggled a bit this morning, but drove with such assurance during qualifying. It’s super for him. It’s been difficult here for everyone, not running yesterday, but Jenson has kept calm and done a fantastic job. I think he’s in very good shape for tomorrow.”
Note: After this report was written Maldonado was handed a three place grid penalty for blocking. Read more here>>>
Subbed by AJN.
Belgian Grand Prix Qualifying – Saturday, 1 September 2012
|7||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:49.859||1:48.546||1:48.392||13|
|10||11||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:50.033||1:48.729||1:48.890||19|
|11||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:49.722||1:48.792||12|
|12||12||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:49.362||1:48.855||13|
|22||22||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT-Cosworth||1:53.030||6|
|Q1 107% Time||1:56.622|
Note – Webber and Rosberg drop five grid places for unscheduled gearbox changes.
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- Ferrari: The result at Spa showed just how competitive our car is
- Vettel: We had massive pace and could control the race until the end
- Alonso: When you are the second fastest, you deserve to finish second
- Hamilton: We’ll be back to being very competitive when we get to Singapore
- Pirelli reports from the Belgian Grand Prix
- Renault reports from the Belgian GP