Spa, September 1, 2012 – Following a day characterised by torrential rain on Friday, the final free practice session and qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps took place in dry weather on Saturday with ambient temperatures in the region of 15 degrees centigrade.
Jenson Button took pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix – his very first for McLaren – with a time of 1m47.573s, which was comfortably the quickest time of the weekend so far. Last year’s qualifying time was 1m48.298s, courtesy of Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel.
With the teams having only run on the Cinturato Blue full wet tyres yesterday, today was their first opportunity to sample the P Zero Silver hard and P Zero White medium slicks that have been nominated for Belgium.
Consequently the final free practice session in the morning was extremely busy, as teams packed all their preparation for qualifying and the race into just one hour, running on both slick compounds.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was quickest with a time of 1m48.542s, ahead of Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen.
As the weather in the Ardennes region is constantly variable, the teams prioritised getting out as early as they could in the first qualifying session, in order to set a banker time.
Most of the teams started Q1 on the hard tyre apart from Caterham, HRT and Marussia, who used the softer available compound. Williams driver Pastor Maldonado went quickest on the medium tyre.
The medium tyre also topped the times in Q2, with McLaren driver Jenson Button using it to set fastest time comfortably with just one run. Only Romain Grosjean used the hard tyre in Q2 for one run.
The medium tyre, which is between 0.6-0.9s faster than the hard compound at Spa, proved to be the default setting for the final top 10 shoot-out. Once more, the final grid order was decided in the closing seconds, with Button claiming his first pole position since 2009. Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi claimed his best-ever qualifying result with second overall, also on the medium tyre.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “After what could definitely be described as a wash-out yesterday, the teams faced a tough task to prepare for qualifying today, in what was effectively the first real return to action since the five-week break.
Changeable weather is a hallmark of Spa, but our tyres have proved in the past that they are adaptable to a very wide range of conditions, even at this track where they face their highest energy loadings of the year.
Like today, the forecast is predicting largely dry weather for tomorrow, which gives the teams the opportunity to formulate a number of different tyre strategies that could be effective around the longest lap of the season: we’re expecting two to three stops.
We’d like to congratulate Jenson Button on his first pole for McLaren today as well as Kamui Kobayashi and Sauber in particular on a best-ever qualifying performance.”
Last year’s winner, Vettel, adopted a three-stop strategy, stopping on laps five, 13 and 30 – although the tyre nominations were different in 2011, with the soft and the medium tyres chosen. However, this year’s tyres are generally softer across the board compared to their 2011 equivalents.
Tyres used by the top ten qualifiers:
Button - 1:47.573s - Medium
Kobayashi - 1:47.871s - Medium
Maldonado - 1:47.893s - Medium
Raikkonen - 1:48.205s - Medium
Perez - 1:48.219s - Medium
Alonso - 1:48.313s - Medium
Webber - 1:48.392s - Medium
Hamilton - 1:48.394s - Medium
Grosjean - 1:48.538s - Medium
Di Resta - 1:48.890s - Medium
Source: Pirelli Motorsport