Lewis Hamilton took pole position for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix in a chaotic qualifying session that was dominated by changeable weather.
Sebastian Vettel took second ahead of teammate Mark Webber, while the second Mercedes of Nico Rosberg qualified fourth.
Paul di Resta almost qualified on pole, but the weather gods were cruel, and a drying track in the dying moments of the session meant that he dropped from first to fifth in just a minute.
Jenson Button had his best Saturday for a while, qualifying sixth. The two Lotus drivers, led by Romain Grosjean, will start on the fourth row, while the two Ferrari drivers, led by Fernando Alonso, will be on the row behind.
With drivers switching between slick and intermediate sessions throughout the hour, lap times were all over the place, and drivers were going from hero to zero in a matter of minutes.
The rain started about ten minutes before qualifying began. It was heavy rain, but with the teams wary of the track getting even wetter as the session went on, there was a queue of cars at the end of the pit lane when qualifying started.
These cars were resplendent in intermediate tyres as they headed out onto the track. All of the drivers were soon out on the track, desperate to get a lap time to their name, and traffic was quickly an issue for some of the front-runners. Lewis Hamilton, in particular, found himself stuck behind the Marussia duo.
The rain eased as Q1 continued. For their final runs, the backmarkers risked slick tyres on the slowly drying track. Giedo van der Garde was the first to set a lap on the dry tyres, and found a decent improvement in lap time.
The rest of the field continued lapping with intermediate tyres as Q1 came to an end. The times began to tumble, and the order was constantly changing.
Fernando Alonso finished the session as the fastest driver, with Lewis Hamilton second.
The slick tyres paid off for the backmarkers. Van der Garde was a miraculous third in that first part of qualifying, while Jules Bianchi (eleventh) and Max Chilton (sixteenth), also made it through to Q2.
This obviously meant that there were a few red faces at the end of Q1. Pastor Maldonado, Jean-Eric Vergne, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutierrez and Charles Pic all suffered the ignominy of an early exit from qualifying.
Slick tyres were the order of the day as Q2 began. With no more rain, the track continued to dry, and lap times continued to drop.
Kimi Räikkönen ended Q2 as the fastest driver, with Alonso second, Button fifth, Vettel sixth, and Hamilton in tenth.
Nico Hulkenberg missed out on a place in Q3, finishing the session in eleventh. Adrian Sutil will be disappointed with twelfth, given that teammate Paul di Resta secured himself a place in Q3 by finishing in eighth. Sergio Perez could not match his teammate either, and was just thirteenth quickest in Q2.
Q2 also signalled the end of the fairy tale for the backmarkers. Van der Garde, arguably the driver of the day, has qualified fourteenth for the Belgian Grand Prix. Bianchi out-qualified teammate Chilton, but both Marussias qualified on Row 8.
Nine of the ten cars came straight out of the pits for the start of Q3 as there was more rain coming down. The drivers were out on slick tyres, but already the track looked too wet.
They all came back into the pits for some intermediate tyres. Meanwhile, Paul di Resta had the track to himself – he had waited in the pits and gone out on intermediate tyres.
Di Resta set the first time of the session, with a 2:02.332. The track was getting damper, and now the other nine cars needed to get their first times on the board.
As the rest of the lap times came in, it looked as though Di Resta had done enough with his first lap. Only Nico Rosberg came close as the other nine cars came across the line, but even he was 0.541 seconds off the pace of the Force India driver.
It all look set for Di Resta to take pole, until Rosberg nicked provisional pole on his final lap of qualifying. However, the track was drying again, and times were still falling.
Mark Webber took provisional pole with his last lap, and then Vettel stole it from his teammate. However, it was Lewis Hamilton who had the last laugh, and snatched his fourth-consecutive pole position right at the end of the session with a time of 2:01.012.