Webber overcomes variable conditions to take Belgian pole

Mark Webber stormed to his fifth pole position of the year, as the weather once again affected running at Spa.

Early rain showers in Q1 ensured that frontrunners faced a nervy passage into the final segment of qualifying – although there were no major names eliminated.

The Australian driver will be joined by the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton on the front row of the grid, with Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel third and fourth respectively.

However, the session would prove to be a disaster for Fernando Alonso who, despite showing good pace throughout the weekend’s practice sessions, found himself relegated to tenth and well off the pace of those on the first few rows.

Q1

Despite an earlier shower, qualifying for the 2010 Belgian Grand Prix started with relatively blue skies. However, with conditions prone to change so quickly and with the teams all marginal on intermediate tyres, the drivers entered the session wary of the challenges which lay ahead.

With Michael Schumacher carrying over a ten-place grid penalty from Hungary, it emerged that Mercedes team-mate would also be given a five-place penalty for electing to change his gear box.

From the onset the entire field emerged on to the track to guarantee that they were able to put a banker lap in before the impending rain forecast for the middle of the segment.

However, the mad dash to set a quick lap would claim its first victim when Renault’s Vitaly Petrov span off and hit the barriers at turn 9.

The Russian’s accident would prove a headache for the rest of the field, as the session was red flagged narrowing the chances of recording a dry lap as the rain clouds continued to roll over the Ardennesforest.

Once the stranded R30 was cleared, the session restarted with a flourish as the drivers faced a race against time to set a lap time before the rain.

The only exception was Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who left his pit box around a minute later, to ensure he had adequate space on the track.

However, it quickly became apparent that the drivers had not beaten the weather, with rain beginning to pound around the back end of the circuit.

Drama ensued as the front runners struggled to set their fast laps and pass the slower cars, but it would be the rain which would prove a greater concern with a whole host of cars, including the Force India of Adrian, Trulli’s Lotus and the Virgin of Lucas di Grassi having a major moment at Stavelot.

While the rain trundled down around the back of the circuit, the pits and paddock area remained reasonably dry creating nothing more than a lottery for the drivers.

Lewis Hamilton appeared to be the best equipped to deal with the changeable conditions setting a benchmark time of 1:56.706, with team-mate Button over a second behind.

Vettel’s earlier gamble appeared to have failed miserably and forced him down to seventeenth place. Eager to ensure he made it into the next section of qualifying, the Red Bull driver took to the track on intermediate tyres and moved up to third.

Adrian Sutil was in a similar situation to his compatriot and also opted to record a fast lap on the intermediate compound moving out of the drop zone to fifth.

However, it would be Robert Kubica who would make the biggest improvement on intermediate tyres moving up from eighteenth to first.

As track conditions once again began to try, a number of drivers attempted to complete another run on slick tyres.

Unfortunately, this did not play into the hands of the Sauber duo of Pedro de la Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi who both fell off the circuit in two separate incidents.

Despite this, Nico Rosberg would revel on slicks to set the fastest time of the session (1:54.826) with the Williams duo of Hulkenberg and Barrichello second and third.

Benefitting from Sauber’s misery, Timo Glock’s (Virgin) and Heikki Kovalainen (Lotus) made it into the second segment for the first time this season, in sixteenth and seventeenth respectively.

Drivers Eliminated from Q1:

18. Trulli     Lotus
19. Kobayashi  Sauber
20. Senna      HRT
21. Yamamoto   HRT
22. De la Rosa Sauber
23. Di Grassi  Virgin
24. Petrov     Renault

Q2

With no more rain being forecasted for the remainder of the session, drivers expectantly emerged to the race track on slicks.

Once again, all of the remaining drivers, bar the Lotus of Heikki Kovalainen, took to the circuit early on to ensure they once again secured a banker lap.

Lewis Hamilton would be first to top the times with a 1:49.853 nearly six tenths of a second faster than Jaime Alguersuari who occupied second at the time.

Subsequently, the times soon began to tumble as the track continued to dry and the drivers became more confident with the conditions.

Sebastian Vettel was the first man to break the one minute 48 second bracket rocketing to the top of the times with just over five minutes of the session to go.

Michael Schumacher also ran highly in second, albeit around three tenths off his young compatriot.

However, with around two minutes to go and track conditions dramatically improving, the times continued to tumble.

First, Jenson Button moved to the top of the times with a 1:47.421 only for his time to be beaten by his team-mate by over a second.

Hamilton would move further ahead, finally ending the session with a time of 1:46.211.

Although Button would improve, his time would still be around half a second shy of his team-mate, with the Red Bull duo of Vettel and Webber third and fourth,  Adrian Sutil fifth and the Renault of Robert Kubica sixth.

Despite topping Q1, Nico Rosberg would find himself eliminated from the session in twelfth with his team-mate Michael Schumacher one place better in eleventh.

Drivers Eliminated from Q2:

11. Schumacher  Mercedes
12. Rosberg     Mercedes
13. Alguersuari Toro Rosso
14. Liuzzi      Force India
15. Buemi       Toro Rosso
16. Kovalainen  Lotus
17. Glock       Virgin

Q3

With Ferrari yet to show its true hand, the final ten minute shoot out looked set to be a fascinated duel between all of the title rivals.

Lewis Hamilton once more led out the pack, smoking in the pit lane before the session finally got underway.

Initially it was the Renault-powered trio of Mark Webber, Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel who topped the timesheets early on Webber’s lap of 1:45.778 nearly half a second up on Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren in fourth.

However, the rain would return to dash the hopes of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who sat in tenth after his first run. This time the dark clouds began to form around turn one on the circuit.

The change in weather conditions obviously proved a great distraction to the Spaniard, who could not improve on his final run.

While Webber managed to maintain his pole position, it was only the McLaren duo who found any extra time.

As Jenson Button improved to fifth, Lewis Hamilton set a stunning time in the final two sectors of the lap to move up to second.

So with the weather looking set to once again play a deceive role in tomorrow’s race, the final outcome of the 2010 Belgian Grand Prix remains far from certain. However, with another pole position to his name, Mark Webber will be hoping to fend off a strong challenge from Lewis Hamilton and extend his championship lead.

Pos Driver      Team                 Q1       Q2       Q3       Laps
1.  Webber      RBR-Renault          1:57.352 1:47.253 1:45.778 21
2.  Hamilton    McLaren-Mercedes     1:56.706 1:46.211 1:45.863 18
3.  Kubica      Renault              1:56.041 1:47.320 1:46.100 19
4.  Vettel      RBR-Renault          1:58.487 1:47.245 1:46.127 23
5.  Button      McLaren-Mercedes     1:57.981 1:46.790 1:46.206 18
6.  Massa       Ferrari              1:58.323 1:47.322 1:46.314 20
7.  Barrichello Williams-Cosworth    1:55.757 1:47.797 1:46.602 19
8.  Sutil       Force India-Mercedes 1:58.730 1:47.292 1:46.659 18
9.  Hulkenberg  Williams-Cosworth    1:55.442 1:47.821 1:47.053 20
10. Alonso      Ferrari              1:57.023 1:47.544 1:47.441 21
11. Schumacher* Mercedes GP          1:56.313 1:47.874          16
12. Rosberg**   Mercedes GP          1:54.826 1:47.885          16
13. Alguersuari STR-Ferrari          1:58.944 1:48.267          17
14. Liuzzi      Force India-Mercedes 2:01.102 1:48.680          14
15. Buemi       STR-Ferrari          2:00.386 1:49.209          16
16. Kovalainen  Lotus-Cosworth       2:01.343 1:50.980          12
17. Glock       Virgin-Cosworth      2:01.316 1:52.049          16
18. Trulli      Lotus-Cosworth       2:01.491                    9
19. Kobayashi   BMW Sauber-Ferrari   2:02.284                    6
20. Senna       HRT-Cosworth         2:03.612                    7
21. Yamamoto    HRT-Cosworth         2:03.941                    8
22. de la Rosa  BMW Sauber-Ferrari   2:05.294                    6
23. di Grassi   Virgin-Cosworth      2:18.754                    5
24. Petrov      Renault              No time                     1

*Will start 10 places further back after being given grid penalty following the Hungarian Grand Prix
** Will start 5 places further back after a gearbox change