F1 Spa Quali Results & Report: Vettel Takes Pole From Hamilton in Dramatic Session

What Happens When Spa Equals Drama, Drama, Drama

9:20am EST — Sebastian Vettel (1:48.298) won pole in an eventful qualifying session for the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix. Though the result might appear to indicate that it was business as usual for Red Bull in qualifying, that belies the dramatic nature of Saturday’s sessions at Spa. Lewis Hamilton held pole for moments at the very end of the session, only to have Vettel take it away by a half second in a dry, suny, and wet qualifying. Michael Schumacher did not complete a single lap, losing a rear wheel in Q1.

Both Jenson Button and Paul di Resta were stuck with bad calls that knocked them out in Q2 and Q2 respectively, and a red flag in Q2 for Adrian Sutil nearly ended Fernando Alonso’s day. Mark Webber, Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg, and Jaime Alguersuari will complete the front three rows of the starting grid, with Alonso starting only eighth and Button thirteenth. Hamilton was again embroiled in some controversy as Button pulled over on his suspected cool down lap for his teammate and Maldonado damaged Hamilton’s McLaren after Q2, likely in response to an aggresive move by the Briton earlier in the session.

Webber led two-thirds of the practice sessions with quick times in the wet. Though Mercedes might have looked strong from the timesheets in the Friday morning session, it was pure luck that Schumacher and Rosberg set times before the heavens opened on the rest of the field. Instead, Webber was quickest in the damp-dry-wet Friday afternoon session and the all-wet Saturday morning session as word came that he had re-signed with Red Bull for 2012. Ferrari spent that last session essentially in the garage, saving wet tires for the changeable Ardennes conditions. However, both McLaren drivers were strong in all three sessions, despite an uncharacteristically quick morning from the Toro Rosso duo. There were no major practice incidents as the conditions were generally either bad enough to keep drivers off the track or fair enough to allow moderately safe running.

With the sun actually shining at the start of the twenty-minute Q1 session, the Toro Rossos, Virgin Racing cars, and Lotus drivers were lined up and waiting on the green light. They were also joined by Vettel and the McLarens, even as spray continued to fly behind the cars. Less than two minutes into the session, Schumacher lost a rear wheel on the straight heading toward Rivage, forcing him into the wall, down the track, and into the gravel. Buemi posted the first fastest time, with a bogey of 2:11.806, only for Hamilton to take more than two seconds off his time. Button slotted into third on his first lap, with Alonso taking second as many, many drivers finished their laps.

Virtually no one stayed on top of the timesheet, as the track continued to dry, though rain and dark clouds were threatening. With eleven minutes to go, teams were arguing over the forecast. McLaren said the track would continue to dry while Ferrari warned Alonso that rain was coming in the next few minutes. At that point, Webber led Vettel, Sutil, di Resta, Hamilton, Massa, Buemi, Algerusuari, Alonso, and Rosberg as the top ten. Trulli, Petrov, Glock, D’Ambrosio, Ricciardo, Liuzzi, and of course Schumacher were in the knockout zone.

That order at the top would not last minutes, as the traditional teams remained in the relegation zone. Still, the track continued to dry even as the sun began to be blotted out and nearly everyone continued to lap. Hamilton (2:03.008) led when five minutes remained, with Alonso, Webber, Sena, Vettel, Massa, Sutil, Perez, and Petrov the top ten. Maldonado and Kobayashi were the only drivers in the knockout zone with a time inside the 107% rule, and were joined by D’Ambrosio, Glock, Liuzzi, and Ricciardo.

Both Lotus drivers were in the garage with just over three minutes remaining, grabbing new tires and heading out for a last dash to get out of the danger zone. Alonso remained in the garage, as had Massa, from fourth and eleventh respectively. The Brazilian was quickly dropped to twelfth. Button (2:01.813) also pitted from fastest, as did Hamilton. With a minute to go, di Resta was on the bubble and unable to make up time as he spun in the final sector, with one lap left to try. All of the drivers in the knockout zone had time enough for a final fast lap with the leaders having returned to the garage.

In the end, Button remained fastest, with Webber, Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso, Buemi, Senna, Rosberg, Petrov, and Alguersuari the fastest ten. Kovalainen posted a very fast lap, despite traffic, to move up to sixteenth and drop di Resta out in Q1. After Q1, di Resta explained that it was the team’s call to bring him back to the pits when he was on a quick lap, thinking they had the time to get him to Q2. Glock was the last driver to post a time within 107% of Button’s, but the others will likely start at the stewards’ discretion.

Knocked Out in Q1:
18. Paul di Resta
19. Jarno Trulli
20. Timo Glock
21. Jerome D’ambrosio
22. Tonio Liuzzi
23. Daniel Ricciardo
24. Michael Schumacher

Alguersuari led them out again for the fifteen minutes of Q2 as the rain fell lightly. Quickly, only Sutil and Kovalainen remained in the garage, though it looked as though the rain was slowly ending. The Toro Rossos were the first with times in the session, as Alonso then Button led with ten minutes remaining. The times and order continued to change, with Webber leading Vettel just moments later. In the dark and damp conditions, Sutil spun after getting a bit too far over on the kerb at the top of Eau Rouge, strewing dirt and debris across the track.

Red Flag:
The session was red-flagged with 6:53 remaining. Webber (2:06.644) led Vettel, Button, Hamilton, Sutil, Rosberg, Massa, Buemi, Petrov, and Alguersuari as the top ten. With the rain expected to continue falling, Alonso was the leader within the relegation zone, having just gone out on a new set of intermediate tires, joined by Perez, Senna, Barrichello, Kobayashi, Maldonado, and Kovalainen.

Restart (6:53 Remain):
The session restarted just minutes later, with yet another queue at pit out. Kobayashi, Rosberg, and Massa waited to allow the group to set off for some clear track space. When just five minutes remained, all the working cars were on track. Alonso felt it “impossible” to move on to Q3, as the cars ahead of him would not allow him by. He managed a personal best first sector, though a it off the pace. Alguersuari moved up to second fastest, as Buemi took the fast lap from Webber. However, Alonso could feel a bit safer having gone fastest of all, right to the point where Button, then Webber, then Vettel beat his time.

In the final minutes, Senna, Hamilton, Sutil, Perez, Maldonado, Barrichello, and Kovalainen were in the knockout zone. Hamilton, who looked well up on eleventh place Massa, got caught in traffic and was forced to push his way through on Maldonado to the fastest lap. Alonso had been dropped to eleventh, but had the fastest first sector of all. Vettel and Button had pitted from third and seventh, but Button got dropped by both Toro Rosso drivers, then Senna. Alonso, on the last lap of the session, took the fastest lap of the session (2:02.768). After the session, Maldonado cut across Hamilton and damaged the McLaren as some retaliation for Hamilton’s aggressive move earlier in the session. Alonso (2:02.768) led Hamilton, Webber, Vettel, Petrov, Rosberg, Senna, Massa, Alguersuari, and Perez as the top ten.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Sebastien Buemi
12. Kamui Kobayashi
13. Jenson Button
14. Rubens Barrichello
15. Adrian Sutil
16. Pastor Maldonado
17. Heikki Kovalainen

Alonso went out on soft, dry tires for the ten minutes of Q3, as was Webber. Massa, also on dry tires was through the gravel at the exit of Les Combes. Hamilton made it out after some repairs on the soft tires with more than six minutes remaining, with taped holding his bodywork together. Despite some seriously threatening-looking clouds, Eau Rouge was beautifully sunny and a fully dry line had formed. Perez set the first time, but Alonso was four seconds quicker, only to lose the top spot to Webber (1:53.798) on his first lap, then second to his teammate Massa. With four minutes to go, Webber led Massa, Alonso, Vettel, Alguersuari, Petrov, Senna, and Perez as those with times.

Perez was quite quick on his next lap, only to be beaten by Webber (with a shocking 1:50.875) and Massa. Soon Webber led Vettel, Hamilton, Massa, and Alguersuari as the top five. Webber continued to set fast sector times with two minutes remaining, improving his own time by a second and a half. However, Vettel’s lap was quicker as Alguersuari asserted himself to go fourth fastest. Soon, Alonso was tenth and on a slow lap.

In the final seconds after the flag, Hamilton was on a shocking lap as Webber remained second fastest to Vettel, only for Hamilton to take pole, but for Vettel to post the fastest lap just feet behind him. At the end, Vettel’s lap was a half second faster than Hamilton, and Massa out-qualified Alonso in a rare display of strength over his teammate.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix:

Driver Team Time Laps
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:48.298 22
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:48.730 21
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:49.376 23
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:50.256 21
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 1:50.552 23
6. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1:50.773 24
7. Bruno Senna Renault 1:51.121 24
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:51.251 22
9. Sergio Perez Sauber 1:51.374 24
10. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1:52.303 23
11. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 2:04.692 18
12. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 2:04.757 18
13. Jenson Button McLaren 2:05.150 15
14. Rubens Barrichello Williams 2:07.349 17
15. Adrian Sutil Force India 2:07.777 12
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams 2:08.106 17
17. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 2:08.354 15
18. Paul di Resta Force India 2:07.758 8
19. Jarno Trulli Lotus 2:08.773 8
20. Timo Glock Virgin Racing 2:09.566 9
21. Jerome D’ambrosio Virgin Racing 2:11.601 9
22. Tonio Liuzzi HRT 2:11.616 9
23. Daniel Ricciardo HRT 2:13.077 9
24. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP no time 1


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