Spa by name, spa by nature.  Rain fell on and off throughout the qualifying session today at Spa Francorchamps, and a few drivers certainly slipped up in the wet conditions.  Qualifying in 2011 hasn’t traditionally been sparkling, but at Spa today it was pretty thrilling stuff …

Red Bull media

Qualifying Session 1

Michael Schumacher took a spin as he lost a rear wheel on his out lap, and starts at the back of the grid – what a lovely 20th anniversary celebration (since his F1 debut at Spa in 1991 … in a Jordan no less).  His ex-team-mate Rubens Barrichello fared little better, as he struggled to even get out of the pit!  Rookie Paul di Resta struggled with the conditions and the circuit, spinning and struggling to find grip, and, shock horror, got dropped in Q1.

Lewis Hamilton set the early pace, exchanging fastest times with birthday boy Mark Webber.  But it was Button who nabbed a late top time, showing some early promise for the McLarens.  Life was a box of last Christmas’s Thorntons Belgian chocolates for Jerome d’Ambrosio, the only Belgian driver on the grid, who qualified in 21st.

Shock pace of the session = Adrian Sutil!  It may not look like it from the times, but he set such a comfortable lap early on that he headed back to the pits to relax.  Not too shabby.

Q1 knockout: Paul Di Resta (18th), Jarno Trulli (19th), Timo Glock (20th), Jerome d’Ambrosio (21st), Vitantonio Liuzzi (22nd), Daniel Ricciardo (23rd), Michael Schumacher (24th)

Qualifying Session 2

Wet weather expert Button again showed strong pace at the beginning of Q2 (well, he did grow up in the West Country after all).  Adrian Sutil, after a speedy Q1, sped himself into an accident, spreading debris and rubbish here and there over the track, forcing a red flag to temporarily suspend the session.  He was so speedy that it looked for a moment as though he might get himself into Q3 despite the incident.

At the break it was the Red Bulls on top, followed closely by the McLarens.  After the break it was a mad scrabble to get some laps in as the track considerably improved, with Alonso moaning over the team radio about traffic – a bad workman always, oh, nevermind…!  It didn’t matter, he comfortably got through to Q3.  Pastor Maldonado forgot it was Saturday, and decided to get a bit dicey out on track on the last corner with Lewis Hamilton, who complained of damage from the incident.

Horror of the session … Jenson Button got dropped as the track continued to improve, as he’d pulled into the pits early.  He starts 13th, which sort of tells you everything you need to know really.  Fingers crossed for a valiant drive through the field on race day tomorrow.

Q2 knockout: Sebastien Buemi (11th), Kamui Kobayashi (12th), Jenson Button (13th), Rubens Barrichello (14th), Adrian Sutil (15th), Pastor “naughty boy” Maldonado (16th), Heikki Kovalainen (17th)

Red Bull media

Qualifying Session 3

By Q3 the dry tyres were out, with mixed success.  Alonso had a little venture into the gravel pit.  Massa’s legendary race engineer Rob Smedley sounded downbeat over team radio, with the Ferraris struggling to match the pace of the Red Bulls and the remaining McLaren. Lewis Hamilton went back out with some gaffer tape holding his car together – F1, the pinnacle of advanced technologies (see also marshalls clearing debris with their wooden brooms!)

Perhaps it was the new contract (to drive with Red Bull in 2012), but Mark Webber was looking strong … that is, until his team mate Vettel pulled yet another pole position out of seemingly nowhere?  Hamilton’s gaffer taped car still made it to a respectable 2nd.  Maldonado may be getting a visit from the McLaren heavies.

All in all, an unexpected, surprising, and thrilling qualifying session to herald the return of Formula 1 after its lengthy summer break.

Tomorrow’s starting grid:

  1. Vettel
  2. Hamilton
  3. Webber
  4. Massa
  5. Rosberg
  6. Alguersuari
  7. Senna
  8. Alonso
  9. Perez
  10. Petrov
  11. Buemi
  12. Kobayashi
  13. Button
  14. Barrichello
  15. Sutil
  16. Maldonado
  17. Kovalainen
  18. Di Resta
  19. Trulli
  20. Glock
  21. d’Ambrosio
  22. Liuzzi
  23. Ricciardo
  24. Schumacher