Jack Evans, F1 Correspondent
Jenson Button set pole in a tense qualifying session for tomorrow’s FIA Formula One Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. His time of 1:47.573 was a full three tenths over Kamui Kobayashi’s; the Sauber driver surprised all with the other front-row lap.
"The balance is to my liking," Button said. "I obviously have a style that makes it quite difficult to find a car that works for me in qualifying, but when (we do) we can get pole position."
That he did, for the first time in 61 races.
“It’s been so long since my last pole position that it almost feels like a win for me!"
Kobayashi's stellar lap came out of nowhere in the dying seconds of Q3 and made him the first Japanese driver ever to qualify in the top three of a Formula One race. Ever the contender, he was hardly thrilled by second spot.
"I will be on the front row tomorrow and this is certainly nice, but we don’t score points for that," he told reporters. "The podium must be the target and to reach it we still have a long way to go."
Pastor Maldonado timed in third—a great result for the recently-troubled Spanish GP winner.
So where are all the big names? Kimi Raikkonen managed fourth, but both Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher failed to make Q3, the former for only the second time this year.
Sauber’s Sergio Perez in fifth follows Raikkonen, but leads runaway points leader Fernando Alonso. Though his Ferrari took Alonso to a fastest time in the morning practice session, it lies far behind the lead McLaren on this afternoon's timing and scoring charts.
Mark Webber and his Red Bull chassis looked promising for the race, but a gearbox change penalty yesterday torpedoed his hopes of a good grid start. With a seventh-fastest time today he’ll start twelfth.
“I’m disappointed," Webber said. "We would like to have been higher up the grid to take the sting out of the penalty, but...we weren’t quick enough and couldn’t challenge for the front row today."
Lewis Hamilton takes his spot behind Alonso.
Many teams elected to remove updates developed over the summer break for the weekend after practice times were skewed by heavy rain, but McLaren clearly gamble with a new component on one of their cars, as Hamilton Tweeted post-session: "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." If the clear skies remain Sunday, Button's new wing may be unbeatable.
Though the Lotus cars of Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean were tipped for the front row going in to the weekend, Frenchman Grosjean managed only ninth and will start eighth.
Paul di Resta, then, gets the ninth slot in his Force India alongside Vettel, who will surely be looking to charge up towards his 2011 spot: first.
The other disappointments on the day were Felipe Massa driving his Ferrari F2012 to fourteenth, and of course Schumacher's failure to advance out of Q2 on his 300th grand prix start at what he considers to be his "home track."
"What a pity today," he said. "I am really sorry for my fans but I am afraid I have to say that I got pretty much everything that we could from today. The car was not quick enough, and especially in the mid-sector we were too slow."
Mercedes can compound that "pity" with Nico Rosberg's, who struggled in Q1, the track having been washed "green" by Friday downpours. As if that wasn't bad enough, he too will suffer a five-place grid penalty for gearbox issues and will start amid HRT's and Marussias in twenty-third.