Sebastian Vettel secured his eighth pole position of the 2011 season as he came out on top in a frantic wet/dry qualifying session at Spa-Francorchamps. The Red Bull driver's 1m48.298s lap right at the end denied Lewis Hamilton pole by just under half a second. Mark Webber was third in the second Red Bull, with Felipe Massa fourth in the leading Ferrari.
Hamilton was able to compete in Q3 despite a bizarre incident with Williams's Pastor Maldonado in the previous segment. As track conditions rapidly improved and the times turned inside out, Hamilton banged wheels with Maldonado going through the Bus Stop chicane as the McLaren completed a flying lap. It was still quick enough to make Hamilton fastest at the time, but Maldonado appeared to retaliate for the contact on the run out of La Source on their slowing-down laps, sideswiping the McLaren, which then needed minor impromptu repairs for Q3.
The second McLaren of Jenson Button was one of those out of luck in the late-Q2 scramble, leaving the winner of the last race back in 13th on the grid.
The end of Q3 was similarly topsy-turvy as the track became ever more dry. Massa outqualified Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso for only the second time this season as they took fourth and eighth respectively. Nico Rosberg put his Mercedes in fifth, while Jaime Alguersuari starred with an outstanding sixth for Toro Rosso.
But the real hero of qualifying was Bruno Senna, who was rapid throughout and marked his debut for Renault with seventh on the grid – three places ahead of teammate Vitaly Petrov, who shares row five with Sergio Perez's Sauber.
Rosberg's was the only Mercedes in the top 10. Twenty years after he stunned Formula 1 by qualifying seventh on his debut with Jordan at Spa, Michael Schumacher's anniversary weekend went dramatically downhill when his Mercedes shed a rear wheel on its out-lap at the start of Q1 and crashed heavily on the approach to Rivage, leaving him at the tail of the field.
Although Sebastien Buemi was regularly in the top 10 at times, when it counted in Q2 the Toro Rosso driver found himself back in 11th, ahead of Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi.
Neither Williams made it beyond Q2, with Rubens Barrichello 14th and Maldonado 16th - any penalty for the Hamilton incident permitting. Adrian Sutil ended up between them after crashing his Force India on the way out of Eau Rouge while holding fifth in Q2. A red flag was required while the debris was cleared up.
That completed a miserable session for Force India as a spin and then an early call to return to the pits had left Paul di Resta down in 18th. With Schumacher and di Resta both missing the cut, Heikki Kovalainen made it to Q2 for Lotus and took 17th.
At the back, Virgin's Jerome D'Ambrosio and the two HRTs were both outside the 107 percent time in Q1 but will have a good argument for gaining dispensation to race given the weather conditions.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m48.298s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m48.730s + 0.432
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m49.376s + 1.078
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m50.256s + 1.958
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m50.552s + 2.254
6. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m50.773s + 2.475
7. Bruno Senna Renault 1m51.121s + 2.823
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m51.251s + 2.953
9. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m51.374s + 3.076
10. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m52.303s + 4.005
Q2 cut-off time: 2m04.625s Gap **
11. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2m04.692s + 1.924
12. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 2m04.757s + 1.989
13. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 2m05.150s + 2.382
14. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 2m07.349s + 4.581
15. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 2m07.777s + 5.009
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 2m08.106s + 5.338
17. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 2m08.354s + 5.586
Q1 cut-off time: 2m07.194s Gap *
18. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 2m07.758s + 5.945
19. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 2m07.773s + 5.960
20. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 2m09.566s + 7.753
21. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 2m11.601s + 9.788
22. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 2m11.616s + 9.803
23. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 2m13.077s + 11.264
24. Michael Schumacher Mercedes no time
107% time: 2m10.339s
* Gap to quickest in Q1
** Gap to quickest in Q2