Lewis Hamilton claimed his fourth consecutive Formula 1 pole position in a breathtaking end to the Belgian Grand Prix qualifying session.
A rain shower at the start of Q3 made it look like Paul di Resta would snatch a sensational pole position for Force India. But as the track dried up again, the Mercedes and Red Bulls blasted through to demote the Scot to fifth.
Di Resta was the only man to start Q3 on intermediates, and while the other nine drivers slithered helplessly and had to pit again to abandon their slicks, the Force India flew to the top.
It seemed that no one else would have a chance, although Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg hinted at a challenge when he got within half a second of the Force India in much worse weather. While di Resta pitted with pole apparently in the bag, the rain eased completely, and those able to squeeze in a lap at the end were back in pole contention.
It was Rosberg who first deposed the Force India, but he was quickly beaten by first Red Bull’s Mark Webber, then Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel came through 0.2 second slower than Hamilton to claim the second front row spot, followed by Webber, Rosberg and di Resta.
Jenson Button put the lead McLaren an encouraging sixth. Lotus and Ferrari had to settle for rows four and five, with title contenders Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso back in eighth and ninth positions.
The biggest upset of the wet-but-drying first part of qualifying was Marussia duo Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton plus Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde all making it through to Q2. The trio were the only drivers to try slicks at the end of the session and all jumped up the order, all the way to third in van der Garde’s case.
As they progressed, both Williams, both Toro Rossos and Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez were left to rue more conservative tactics as they failed to reach Q2.
With Q2 dry, van der Garde, Bianchi and Chilton lined up in 14th to 16th places. That still means Caterham will share row seven with a McLaren, as Sergio Perez was the highest-profile driver to fall in Q2. He starts behind the all-German row six pairing of Nico Hulkenberg and Adrian Sutil.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2m01.012s 2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 2m01.200s + 0.188s 3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 2m01.325s + 0.313s 4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 2m02.251s + 1.239s 5. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 2m02.332s + 1.320s 6. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 2m03.075s + 2.063s 7. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 2m03.081s + 2.069s 8. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 2m03.390s + 2.378s 9. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 2m03.482s + 2.470s 10. Felipe Massa Ferrari 2m04.059s + 3.047sQ2 cut-off time: 1m49.088s Gap **11. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m49.088s + 0.792s 12. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m49.103s + 0.807s 13. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m49.304s + 1.008s 14. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m52.036s + 3.740s 15. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m52.563s + 4.267s 16. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m52.762s + 4.466s Q1 cut-off time: 2m02.948s Gap *17. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 2m03.072s + 2.882s 18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2m03.300s + 3.110s 19. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2m03.317s + 3.127s 20. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 2m03.432s + 3.242s 21. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 2m04.324s + 4.134s 22. Charles Pic 107% time: 2m08.603s * Gap to quickest in Q1 ** Gap to quickest in Q2