Spa Quali Recap: Button storms to pole under clear Belgian skies, Kobayashi 2nd

Jenson Button (1:47.573) won pole for the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, after dominating both Q2 and Q3. Only he and Kimi Raikkonen had set times early in Q3, leaving a mad dash for a single fast lap from all ten drivers shooting for pole. In the end Button did not even have to rejoin, but he did and improved his time. Raikkonen dropped to qualify fourth, as Kamui Kobayashi won his first ever front row start, and Pastor Maldonado slotted into third fastest.

Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, and Lewis Hamilton rounded out the top eight qualifiers. However, Webber received a five-place grid penalty Friday for a gearbox change. Q2 seemed relatively mild, until the final two minutes. Everyone but Button and Raikkonen were on track, as the Briton led the Finn by more than eight tenths at the top of the timesheets. In the mad dash to make it to Q3, Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher fell well short, managing only the eleventh and thirteenth qualifying spots. Nico Rosberg did not manage to even get out of Q1, setting only the eighteenth fastest lap time in that session, and will drop another five places for a gearbox change penalty.

Friday saw torrential rain and blustery winds, weather that kept drivers and cars generally in the garage and off the track. Kobayashi (2:11.389) set the fastest lap in the morning practice, over a top five that included Maldonado, Ricciardo, Vergne, and Webber. Vettel was ninth, Hamilton and Button fifteenth and sixteenth, and Alonso twenty-second. That session saw more running than the afternoon, with a few off-and-ons, a couple of spins, and an old Ferrari engine ending Massa’s run after just two laps near then end of the session.

The afternoon session saw no one bother to even leave the garages until Rosberg did halfway through the session. Others followed, trickling out of the garage. In an indication of the track conditions, Kovalainen spun halfway through his first lap. At the end of the session, no one had set a time, though more than half the field set at least a single sector time. Many drivers went out for multiple installation laps without completing any properly timed laps. With sector times combined, Pic (2:49.354), Ricciardo, Alonso, Di Resta, and Maldonado had the fastest five times. The rest of the weekend was forecast to have warmer and possibly sunny weather, leaving any sort of heavy wet running useless.

Saturday morning saw the first dry running of the weekend. Alonso (1:48.542) led Raikkonen, Perez, Kobayashi, and Button as the fastest five. Masssa and Webber sat sixth and seventh, Vettel ninth, Hamilton twelfth, and Schumacher 13th. Even as most teams played catch up after Friday’s dismal weather, Rosberg managed just five laps and the slowest lap time of all. He received a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change as well as lost time after his Mercedes broke down early in that session.

The twenty minutes of Q1 began under partially sunny skies, with Pic the first out after waiting at the end of pit lane for the honor. Glock followed soon thereafter, as did Rosberg. Soon, about half the field had entered the track, even as Webber still wiggled fully into his fire suit three minutes into the session. Pic (1:53.493) set the first time, well off the pace but still quicker than anything Friday. The rest quickly set their first times as more and more drivers began their qualifying runs. Alonso’s first time set was slow in the second sector and third sectors after a fastest overall first sector. Eight minutes into the session, Vettel, Webber, and Raikkonen all remained in the garage, while Hamilton went second fastest on his first timed lap. He was just under two tenths slower than early leader Perez (1:49.642), as Alonso slotted into third. It appeared that the faster of the laps remained the second timed lap.

At halfway, Perez led Hamtilon, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Di Resta, Kobayashi, Grosjean, Maldonado, Button, and Senna as the top ten. Pic, de la Rosa, Kovalainen, and Karthikeyan sat in the knockout zone along with the three drivers still in the garage. Moments later, Webber and Raikkonen began lapping while Vettel stayed behind. Soon thereafter Alonso went fastest, but still slower than his fastest lap of the morning practice. Vettel became the last man to get out onto the track, waiting until just eight minutes remained in the session. Despite complaining of understeer, Button (1:49.250) put himself at the top of the timesheets as most of the runners returned to the garage.

Raikkonen’s first fast time put him third fastest with five minutes to go. Webber slotted into sixth, Vettel sixth. Button led Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Perez, Vettel, Webber, Hulkenberg, Di Resta, and Kobayashi as the top ten with four to go. Schumacher sat eighteenth, joined by Petrov, Glock, Pic, Kovalainen, de la Rosa, and Karthikeyan in the knockout zone at that point.

Meanwhile, Maldonado and Hulkenberg came under investigation by the stewards, with Maldonado charged with impeding the German at the Bus Stop chicane. The former quickly set the fastest time of all in the session as nearly all the drivers were on the track with two minutes to go. A number of drivers switched to the softer tyre, including Massa, Hamilton, the Mercedeses, Saubers, Williamses, and Force Indias. With a minute to go, Ricciardo had joined the usual drivers in the knockout zone as the upper order continued to shuffle. Webber felt safe enough in twelfth to stay in the garage, even as Ricciardo moved up to sixth, dropping Rosberg to eighteenth even as the German kept his final lap a tiny bit too late and was the first man to take the checkered flag. Maldonado (1:48.993) led Button, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Massa, Hamilton, Perez, and Kobayashi as the fastest ten. Vettel was eleventh, Schumacher twelfth, and Webber fourteenth.

Knocked Out in Q1:
18. Nico Rosberg
19. Heikki Kovalainen
20.Vitaly Petrov
21. Timo Glock
22. Pedro de la Rosa
23. Charles Pic
24. Narain Karthikeyan

The sky continued to clear, with the sun shining more brightly as the fifteen minutes of Q2 began. Perez led no one out, gaining an absolutely clear track for himself. Di Resta and Kobayashi joined him a minute later. A few others followed, mostly on the softer tyres. Three minutes into the session, only the McLaren drivers, Raikkonen, and Senna remained in the garage. Soon, only Button, who appeared to have a wing issue of some variety, and Senna remained stationary. Perez (1:48.880) set the benchmark time, as his teammate and Di Resta slotted in behind. Quickly, all the drivers were out on the track, with Webber, then Alonso taking the top position.

At halfway, Raikkonen (1:48.414) led Hamtilon, Alonso, Webber, Grosjean, Perez, Kobayashi, Hulkenberg, Vettel, and Schumacher. Di Resta, Massa, Vergne, Ricciardo, and Maldonado sat in the knockout zone, with Button and Senna, who had yet to set a time. Button’s (1:47.654) first time came moment later and straight to the top, eight tenths faster than Raikkonen’s time. Senna pitted after nearly spinning at Pouhon.

All but Button were in the garage with five minutes remaining, as Vettel aborted a lap. Kobayashi headed back out a minute later, as did Di Resta and Massa in the knockout zone. Radio transmissions indicated that Raikkonen would not rejoin the circuit, nor seemingly would Button. Time continued to tick away, with Vettel on the bubble, Schumacher eleventh, and both still in the garage. Hamilton rejoined, as did Alonso and Webber, then Vettel.

Only Button and Raikkonen remained in the garage with two minutes to go. Schumacher, Di Resta, Massa, Vergne, Ricciardo, Maldonado, and Senna were in the knockout zone. Massa managed only ninth, only to drop again as Di Resta went eighth. Vergne did not move up, but Maldonado did jump to ninth. Schumacher continued to drop, as Perez went second fastest. Vettel could not manage more than eleventh, nor Schumacher better than thirteenth. In the end, Button (1:47.654) led Perez, Raikkonen, Webber, Hamilton, Kobayashi, Alonso, Grosjean, Di Resta, and Maldonado into the ten minutes of Q3.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Sebastian Vettel
12. Nico Hulkenberg
13. Michael Schumacher
14. Felipe Massa
15. Jean-Eric Vergne
16. Daniel Ricciardo
17. Bruno Senna

Di Resta led a train of cars out for the final ten minute dash to pole, under nearly clear skies at Spa. Raikkonen (1:48.205) set the first fast time, as Di Resta set only a few sector times. Button (1:47.686) soon went fastest, as teammate Hamilton took to the asphalt runoff area. They were the only men to set times, halfway through the session, as everyone else sat in the garage for a single run. With three to go, Kobayashi, Maldonado, Di Resta, and most everyone else made their way out onto the track. Everyone had rejoined with just over two minutes remaining, though Hamilton made something of a pass on Perez in the pit lane to not be the last out as the Sauber seemed a bit slow.

All the drivers managed to begin their timed lap before the checkered flag, but they would each get only one in the final run. Raikkonen was slower than Button’s already set first sector, but Button looked to improve his own time. Kobayashi powered up to second, with Maldonado slotting into third. Raikkonen continued to lose time, and managed only to keep fourth. Webber slotted into fifth, only to lose the position to Alonso. Hamilton went seventh fastest, but Perez moved well up to fifth on his own lap. Still, the drama came as Button improved his previous fast lap to post a dominant pole time.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix:

1. Jenson ButtonMcLaren1:47.57314
2. Kamui KobayashiSauber1:47.87118
3. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1:47.89320
4. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1:48.20514
5. Sergio PerezSauber1:48.21916
6. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:48.31315
7. Mark Webber*Red Bull1:48.39213
8. Lewis HamiltonMcLaren1:48.39416
9. Romain GrosjeanLotus1:48.53818
10. Paul Di RestaForce India1:48.89019
11. Sebastian VettelRed Bull1:48.79212
12. Nico HulkenbergForce India1:48.85513
13. Michael SchumacherMercedes1:49.08114
14. Felipe MassaFerrari1:49.14713
15. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:49.35413
16. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1:49.54313
17. Bruno SennaWilliams1:50.08815
18. Nico Rosberg*Mercedes1:50.18110
19. Heikki KovalainenCaterham1:51.7397
20. Vitaly PetrovCaterham1:51.9676
21. Timo GlockMarussia1:52.3368
22. Pedro de la RosaHRT1:53.0306
23. Charles PicMarussia1:53.4936
24. Narain KarthikeyanHRT1:54.9898

*will receive a five-place grid penalty for the starting grid

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