Hamilton takes pole in a dramatic qualifying session at Spa

Lewis Hamilton; Sebastian Vettel; Mark Webber (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)After the annual summer break, F1 fans all around the world were more than ready to get back to the important business of racing – and where better than one of the best and most historic tracks on the F1 calendar?


As the circus rolled into the famous Spa Francorchamps track in Belgium’s Ardennes Forrest, the biggest talking point was who’d be driving for which team next year. The rumour mill has been in overdrive since Mark Webber announced his retirement from the sport – and as we went into the weekend, those in the know were suggesting that the deal for Ricciardo to take the second seat at Red Bull was already signed and sealed, and it’s only a matter of time before the announcement is made. 

Which begs the question: where will Raikkonen go next year? Would he really go back to Ferrari after they paid him to leave? Has he been in talks with McLaren? Can Lotus raise enough cash to keep him? And did Alonso really approach Red Bull about Webber’s soon-to-be vacated seat? 

All that would have to wait, however, as the teams had more pressing matters to deal with – namely the rain that started falling just 10 mins before Q1 was due to begin. 

As the green lights signalled the start of the first qualifying session, the cars were queued at the end of the pit lane on their inters, primed and ready to put in a banker lap in case conditions got any worse. 

Lewis Hamilton; Sebastian Vettel (photo by Mercedes team)Sebastian Vettel (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)  Paul di Resta (photo by Moy)A status quo was quickly reached at the top of the time sheet, with the Mercs initially setting the pace, only to be surpassed by the Red Bulls as we got further into the session. 

At the halfway point of Q1, Alonso snatched the top spot, just as news came that the track was drying out. That left the teams with a difficult dilemma: should they leave their cars out on the inters, or was it time to bring them in and try their luck on slicks? 

Most teams opted to stay out on the inters. After all, the track was still wet. And with just six minutes left on the clock, there seemed little chance of it drying out enough to warrant the change. 

Exit Chilton from the pit lane – the first car to go onto the dry tyres. Surely his times would give the bigger teams an indication of whether or not the track was now dry enough to warrant unleashing the prime tyres from their covers? 

Of course, the problem was that Chilton drives a Marussia. So even on better tyres he was unlikely to set a blisteringly fast lap out of the box. When his lap times failed to tumble drastically, it seemingly gave the other teams confirmation that they’d made the right decision by playing it safe on the intermediates.  

As the session came to a close, the top teams were switching fastest laps so quickly that it was hard to keep up. But what was more interesting was what had started to happen further down the field… 

By this point, both the Marussias and the Caterham of Van Der Garde were setting fast times on their slicks, leaving the top teams in no doubt that they made the wrong choice by staying on the inters. Marussia and Caterham were delighted, as both teams (Pic excluded) made it into Q2. 

Williams were the biggest losers of the tyre debacle, with both Maldonado and Bottas dropping out, joined by the Toro Rossos of Vergne and Ricciardo , Gutierrez in the Sauber, and Pic’s Caterham. 

As Q2 got underway, there wasn’t such a rush to get out onto the quickly drying track. The hard tyre was the rubber of choice as the cars went out to get a feel for things. But with menacing grey clouds looming, it looked as though there would only be a small window of dry running before the heavens opened once more… 

Raikkonen would end the session fastest ­– and with just four minutes left to go, the Mercs and Vettel still hadn’t set a proper time. It was clear they were waiting for the optimum conditions, but it was still a tense few minute nonetheless as the spectators wondered whether they’d get out on track before the rain set in again. 

There was no need to worry, though. Vettel and Hamilton were soon out of danger, although Rosberg was still languishing down in 15th as the flag dropped.   

The drop zone was changing every few seconds, though, and Rosberg just managed to drag himself up into the top 10. By this point, though, Hamilton had been pushed down to 10th placed, and ended the session only just scraping through to the final part of qualifying. 

It was Hulkenberg, Sutil, Perez, Van Der Garde, Bianchi and Chilton who lost out this time around. But you sensed that it wasn’t too much of a disappointment for Marussia and Caterham, who were clearly happy not to be at the very back of the grid for once.

Q3 kicked off just as the umbrellas started going up among the Spa spectators. The cars formed an orderly queue at the end of the pit lane again, and it would be a race against time to set a hot lap before the drivers would be forced to swim back to their garages.

Nine of the cars were out on track on slicks , with Di Resta the only one hanging back in his garage – opting instead to put on intermediate tyres and make his way out leisurely onto the track.

It turned out he made the right choice – within one lap, the rest of the pack were all in for inters, realising they’d made a grave mistake by going straight out on the slicks.

This gave Di Resta the upper hand. Could he get out and do one flying lap before the rain fell, rendering it impossible for anyone else to better his time?

Di Resta set a 2.02.332. Massa was close behind – but as the rain fell, it didn’t look as though anyone would be able to match the Flying Scotsman’s time.

Any celebrations on Force India’s part were premature, however – although Paul was on pole as the chequered flag fell, the track was drying out fast. Rosberg set a blistering time, nudging Di Resta down to second. And the Red Bulls were flying, too. Webber went fastest, only to be displaced by his teammate Vettel, leaving Di Resta and Force India to reflect on what could have been.

What had been a thrilling qualifying session was brought to an exciting climax when, in true Hamilton style, Lewis pipped everyone to the post at the very last second – taking pole for the fifth time this season.  

Spa certainly didn’t disappoint on this wet Saturday afternoon. All that remains now is to wait and see whether Hamilton can once again convert a superb pole into a race win – or if the fickle Belgian weather will play the biggest part in deciding who will be victorious as the chequered flag falls.  By Sarah Ellis 

Provisional grid for the Belgian Grand Prix 2013:

1. Lewis Hamilton               Britain            Mercedes-Mercedes 2m 01.012s
2. Sebastian Vettel              Germany        Red Bull-Renault                  2m 01.200s
3. Mark Webber                   Australia         Red Bull-Renault                  2m 01.325s
4. Nico Rosberg                  Germany        Mercedes-Mercedes 2m 02.251s
5. Paul di Resta                  Britain            Force India-Mercedes           2m 02.332s
6. Jenson Button                Britain            McLaren-Mercedes               2m 03.075s
7. Romain Grosjean            France           Lotus-Renault                       2m 03.081s
8. Kimi Raikkonen              Finland           Lotus-Renault                       2m 03.390s
9. Fernando Alonso            Spain             Ferrari-Ferrari                       2m 03.482s
10. Felipe Massa                 Brazil             Ferrari-Ferrari                       2m 04.059s
11. Nico Hulkenberg           Germany        Sauber-Ferrari                      1m 49.088s
12. Adrian Sutil                   Germany        Force India-Mercedes           1m 49.103s
13. Sergio Perez                 Mexico           McLaren-Mercedes               1m 49.304s
14. Giedo van der Garde     Holland          Caterham-Renault                 1m 52.036s
15. Jules Bianchi                France           Marussia-Cosworth               1m 52.563s
16. Max Chilton                   Britain            Marussia-Cosworth               1m 52.762s
17. Pastor Maldonado         Venezuela      Williams-Renault                  2m 03.072s
18. Jean-Eric Vergne           France           Toro Rosso-Ferrari               2m 03.300s
19. Daniel Ricciardo            Australia         Toro Rosso-Ferrari               2m 03.317s
20. Valtteri Bottas               Finland           Williams-Renault                  2m 03.432s
21. Esteban Gutierrez         Mexico           Sauber-Ferrari                      2m 04.324s
22. Charles Pic                   France           Caterham-Renault                 2m 07.384s

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