Jenson Button claimed his first pole position in 60 races and his first for McLaren after a truly dominant display on Saturday at Spa. The Briton wasn’t considered a favourite heading into the weekend but was the fastest man on hard tyres in Q1 before comfortably topping Q2 and Q3. Kamui Kobayashi’s performance was equally exceptional to claim second on the grid for Sauber.
The big news in morning practice was a technical problem for Nico Rosberg which stopped him after just five laps, an issue which later necessitated a change of gearbox. As if the five place penalty wasn’t bad enough, Rosberg was knocked out in Q1 after an apparent misjudgement over how much time he had to start a lap. The Mercedes driver crossed the line to start a flying lap a matter of seconds after the chequered flag, leaving him nailed down in eighteenth with the Caterhams, Marussias and HRTs for company at the back of the grid.
Pastor Maldonado had used medium tyres to quickest ahead of Button in Q1 but the early pace was set by Mark Webber before Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton both raised the bar. Kimi Raikkonen edged ahead of Hamilton on a 1:48.414 but Button made a giant stride in the other McLaren, dropping well into the 1:47s.
Sebastian Vettel was conspicuous by his absence at the top of the leaderboard and when the time came for his final run of Q2, he found himself in the drop zone. The world champion was able to improve but a 1:48.792 was a hundredth of a second shy of Maldonado who’d held on to tenth. Compatriots Nico Hulkenberg and Michael Schumacher also failed to make the cut with Felipe Massa a lowly fourteenth in the second Ferrari. The Toro Rosso teammates will start together on row eight with Jean-Eric Vergne outqualifying Daniel Ricciardo while Bruno Senna lines up seventeenth.
The opening stages of Q3 followed a very similar pattern to Q2 with Button and Raikkonen leading the way. As in the previous session, the Lotus laid down a marker in the low 1:48s but Button’s response was sensational again, half a second quicker than the Finn. The two respective teammates were also going for two runs but both made errors, Hamilton the biggest with a snap of oversteer at Rivage.
The other big hitters opted to for one run but neither Mark Webber nor Fernando Alonso could challenge the top two. Almost unnoticed, Kobayashi had snuck into second with a 1:47.871 while Pastor Maldonado made the most of his Q2 reprieve to go third. Raikkonen’s second attempt was no quicker than his first, leaving him fourth, but Button cemented his first pole for three years with a 1:47.573.
Behind the top four, Sergio Perez completed a sensational day for Sauber with fifth position, leaving the championship leaders Alonso and Webber sixth and seventh. With the Red Bull driver receiving a five place grid penalty, he’ll tumble to twelfth which promotes Hamilton, Grosjean and Paul Di Resta into the top nine.