Jenson Button claimed his first McLaren pole position with the qualifying performance of the season at Spa.
Button produced not one, but three laps good enough to take pole position at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit ahead of Kamui Kobayashi and Pastor Maldonado.
Lewis Hamilton could only manage the 8th fastest time, meanwhile, last year's Belgian GP winner Sebastian Vettel failed to make it into Q3 for only the second time this season, qualifying down in 11th place.
But it was Nico Rosberg, who will also have a five place gearbox penalty, who was the biggest loser, qualifying in 18th.
After heavy rain had all but obliterated running on Friday, we had clear blue skies in Belgium with a low ambient of 16C and the track at 27C. At the start of the session Martin Whitmarsh revealed that McLaren had split the set-up between their two cars with Lewis Hamilton going for a higher downforce set-up and Jenson Button a low downforce set-up.
In fact Lewis had opted to go for the old rear wing while Jenson tried the new one. Already we knew that both Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg would be shuffling five places back on the grid after changing their gearboxes.
Rosberg had suffered a problem in morning practice and had only run five laps, so it was no surprise that he was out early setting the first competitive time of 1:51.125. Paul DiResta then took over P1 with a 1:50.033, followed by Perez 1:49.642 and Alonso (also running a low downforce package) with a 1:49.401.
Neither McLaren had gone well in FP3 but suddenly Jenson Buton pulled out a lap to go quickest on a 1:49.250.
Drivers were choosing between the medium and hard compounds, but unlike other races, there was a clear distinction between the times of the established teams and the 'new teams', with no danger of Caterham pulling any kind of surprise on the faster tyre (they ended 1.5 seconds slower than the P18 car).
Running into the last four minutes of the session the danger positions were: 15.Massa, 16.Vergne, 17.Rosberg, 18.Schumacher.
While Mercedes were concentrating on getting both their cars clear of trouble, Pastor Maldonado took over the P1 slot with the first sub-1:49 lap of 1:48.993.
Nico Rosberg put his car into P14, Schumacher made himself safe in P9, Vergne got clear of trouble with a lap just shy of Schumacher's time while his Toro Rosso team-mate Daniel Ricciardo excelled by jumping from P18 to P6.
Ricciardo's great leap forward left Rosberg in the P18 exit seat with Romain Grosjean (who Lotus team boss Eric Boullier had predicted would qualify in the top 5) in P17. Rosberg's penultimate lap wasn't fast enough, mainly because he backed off to give himself space for a final banzai lap. In doing so the chequered flag came out and he missed getting over the line by fractions of a second.
So he was out along with the new teams' drivers: 18.Rosberg, 19.Kovalainen, 20.Petrov, 21.Glock, 22.De la Rosa, 23.Pic, 24.Karthikeayn
Romain Grosjean was the beneficiary of Rosberg's miscalculation because he was stuck behind an HRT which was also engaged on a fast lap and had Rosberg improved then he would have been unable to respond. Except with hand gestures.
Sergio Perez was out early and set the P1 time at a highly competitive 1:48.880. This was reduced to 1:48.662 by Mark Webber and then 1:48.598 by Fernando Alonso.
Lewis Hamilton showed increased pace by setting the fastest middle sector on his way to a 1:48.563 but his time was immediately beaten by Kimi Raikkonen's 1:48.414. The Lotus team have developed their own version of the Double DRS but decided not to race it in Belgium.
All these times were about to have a rude awakening by a sensational lap from Jenson Button. Setting three purple (fastest) sectors - including the middle sector which by rights with low downforce he shouldn't have been fastest in - Jenson re-set P1 at 1:47.654, the qualifying lap of the year so far. It was nearly 0.8 seconds quicker than the next car.
Going into the final four minutes the danger positions were: 6.Grosjean, 7.Perez, 8.Kobayashi, 9.Hulkenberg, 10.Vettel, 11.Schumacher, 12.DiResta, 13.Massa, 14.Vergne, 15.Ricciardo, 16.Maldonado, 17.Senna (no time, having recovered from a lurid slide/spin at Pouhon)
Although you might say that everyone was in danger, because only Button and Raikkonen, the two quickest cars, stayed in the pits.
Kobayashi made himself very very safe by grabbing P4, Massa took a less-than-convincing P9, Paul DiResta elevated himself to P8, Vergne could only manage P11, Maldonado took P9, Hulkenberg P10, Mark Webber a decisive P3 and then Sergio Perez revealed what a strong contender the Saubers would be by taking P2.
But the shock of shocks was awaiting us as Sebastian Vettel could only manage P11 on his final run despite setting three personal bests along the way. Michael Schumacher could only manage P13 and Felipe Massa - who had fallen to P14 - backed off his final lap to save tyres.
So out went: 11.Vettel, 12.Hulkenberg, 13.Schumacher, 14.Massa, 15.Vergne, 16.Ricciardo, 17.Senna
It was a curious start to Q3 with Raikkonen and Button out early to set times, along with Hamilton (who made a massive oversteery mistake, ran wide and quit his lap) and Grosjean and Maldonado who also both came in the pits.
Thus with only three minutes of the session left on the clock, we had only two times on the board. Raikkonen's and another sensational lap from Button, this time a 1:47.686.
Lewis Hamilton came down the pitlane and had to drive around Sergio Perez who was dawdling by the pit exit. Out on track Kamui Kobayashi produced a sensational lap to take P2, just 0.3 down on Button. Similarly impressive, Pastor Maldonado, put his Williams into P3 with a sub 1:48 lap - both drivers ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.
Paul Di Resta came round in P5 (of 5), Kimi could not improve and stayed P4. Then Romain Grosjean took P5, Mark Webber took P5, Fernando Alonso took P5 before Sergio Perez ended up in P5 demoting Alonso to P6. Lewis Hamilton's lap was only good enough for P8 while team-mate Jenson Button reduced the pole time to 1:47.573.
It was the unexpected grid of the season - Button had not been on pole for McLaren before, in fact he hadn't been on pole since Monaco 2009, over three years ago. His previous best start at Spa had been from fifth. He had produced three laps good enough for pole position.
Maldonado (P3) had qualified up there before but was still 14 places in front of his team-mate and in front of five World Champions, while for Kamui Kobayashi (P2) it was his best ever qualifying and the best ever qualifying for a Japanese driver.
Mark Webber was disappointed with P7 which will become P12 on Sunday, while Fernando Alonso in P6 will be glad to see himself in front of challengers Vettel, Webber and Hamilton. If the Spa Grand Prix wasn't watchable enough before the qualifying role of the dice it is doubly so now.
01. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m47.573
02. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m47.871 + 0.298
03. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m47.893 + 0.320
04. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m48.205 + 0.632
05. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m48.219 + 0.646
06. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m48.313 + 0.740
07. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m48.392 + 0.819
08. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m48.394 + 0.821
09. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m48.538 + 0.965
10. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m48.890 + 1.317
11. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m49.722 + 0.472
12. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m49.362 + 0.112
13. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m49.742 + 0.492
14. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m49.588 + 0.338
15. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m49.763 + 0.513
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m49.572 + 0.322
17. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m49.958 + 0.708
18. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m50.181 + 1.188
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m51.739 + 2.746
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m51.967 + 2.974
21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m52.336 + 3.343
22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m53.030 + 4.037
23. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m53.493 + 4.500
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m54.989 + 5.996
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