Tweet from @LewisHamilton: Just got back from big engineering meeting after a tough session. Car is not fast enough at the moment but have made some big changes!
Both Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg will face five place grid drops from wherever they qualify today, as both have had gearbox changes.
It's been a five week gap, so probably worth recapping where we are this season. Alonso is leading the championship by 40 points. Comfortable for now, but easily assailed if things go wrong.
Meanwhile, on the constructors side of things, Red Bull have a healthy lead over McLaren. Ferrari, despite Alonso's good form, are down in fourth!
Interview with Martin Whitmarsh: "Coming here, we felt quite confident. Right now, we're less confident after this morning... Now we're having to make decisions about going into qualifying where there's going to be a bit of spread betting going on. I imagine it's got a lot of people thinking about where to go. High downforce, you can kill people going into the second sector, but you're going to be vulnerable on the straights. I think it's going to be quite interesting in qualifying but very interesting in the race."
We've seen a variety of lap times over the past few sessions, but it's worth remembering that pole position here in 2011 was Sebastian Vettel with 1:48.298.
It's Michael Schumacher's 300th Grand Prix weekend in Belgium. That's... a lot!
If you're following along at home, do join the Sidepodcast comments to share the excitement with likeminded fans: https://sidepodcast.com/dashboard
You might also want to keep live timing to hand: http://www.formula1.com/live_timing/live_timing.html
Interview with Eric Boullier on Kimi: "He's a character, he knows what he wants. This is the main strength for the team. When he's in the car, he knows what he wants... He's getting the speed out of the car and he's capable of doing it in the first lap."
Bruno Senna gets set for qualifying, via @WilliamsF1Team.
This weekend features the hard and medium compounds, which will be the silver and white sidewalls. Good luck telling them apart!
Drivers are climbing into their cars, pulling on their gloves, whilst the mechanics scurry to finish their last minute preparations.
Qualifying session 1 begins.
Charles Pic was waiting at the end of the pitlane for the light to go green, and he heads out on to track first.
Marussia teammate Timo Glock follows him out.
Tweet from @InsideFerrari: Qualifying session has just begun. Everything is ready inside our garage.
Ten cars are out on track now, but the top runners remain tucked away in the garage waiting the opportune moment.
Mark Webber hasn't even got in the car yet, he's just shrugging himself into his overalls.
Tweet from @OfficialSF1Team: first outing is on the hard compound for #Checo and #Kamui. 2 to 4 timed lap and then take it from there. #Spa #F1
Jean-Éric Vergne has been instructed to attempt three timed laps in this stint.
The first times are popping up now, with Paul di Resta posting the fastest for now - 1:50.033 ahead of Pastor Maldonado.
Just the two Red Bull drivers, Button, Räikkönen and De la Rosa remain in the garage now.
Pérez has dropped the times into the 1:49s, sitting P1 for now.
Schumacher has backed off his lap and moves offline to allow another car to speed through.
Over the radio, he reports that he messed it up at turn one, doesn't understand what happened, and will cool the tyres and have another go.
Charles Pic returns to the garage, first stint complete. Vettel, Webber and Räikkönen still have yet to leave.
Tweet from @Pirelli_Media: Everybody but Marussia out on the P Zero silver hard tyre. #F1
Lewis Hamilton has popped up to P2, as both Senna and Grosjean lose their sense of direction for a moment.
More replays show Felipe Massa and Narain Karthikeyan both wobbling around out on track... and off the track!
Button reports understeer on the car. Shocker.
Webber and Kimi have left the garage, leaving Vettel the only one to emerge yet. Confidence? Laziness? You decide.
Ahh, there he goes. Vettel is the last to join the session, just as everyone else returns for a quick stop.
Comment from rethymno racer: "Both MercF1 cars very slow P14 and 15 so far."
Meanwhile, at the top, Fernando Alonso lowered the benchmark even further, posting a 1:49.401 - two tenths ahead of Hamilton.
Button immediately drops the times by almost another two, now 1:49.250.
Pastor Maldonado has bolted on the medium compound for a second stint this session.
Just five minutes remain of Q1, and the current drop zone features: Petrov, Glock, Pic, Kovalainen, De la Rosa and Karthikeyan. Plus Vettel, who hasn't set that crucial time yet.
When Vettel improves, it will be Schumacher dropping down to the drop zone.
Race Control: Incident involving Hülkenberg and Maldonado under investigation for impeding.
Not sure who is at fault on that one, we haven't seen it. Maldonado is looking fast on his current lap.
Pastor pops up to P1, 1:48.993, ahead of Button and Alonso, both of whom are in the pitlane.
Vettel jumped up to P7 which did drop Schumacher into the drop zone, but he is currently on a lap. Rosberg is P17, also on a lap.
Rosberg improves to 14th, Schumacher to ninth. That leaves, drum roll please, Jean-Éric Vergne in the drop zone.
Vergne up to P11, dropping teammate Ricciardo down. Rosberg is back in P17 and the danger zone again.
Romain Grosjean had a massive moment there, running well off track but returned no damage done. He's currently P16.
All drivers out on track bar Maldonado and Button (1st and 2nd) and Webber in 13th.
Gradually, the top runners are returning to their garages now, happy with their positions.
Qualifying session 1 ends.
Rosberg dropped down to P18, backed off to give himself space for another lap but misses the cutoff by a minuscule amount.
Don't forget that Rosberg also has that five place grid penalty. Tough day for the German!
|22||P De la Rosa||HRT|
Fastest three in that session were Maldonado, Button and Hülkenberg.
Grosjean ended up 17th, after suffering a myriad of problems during that session. He was saved by Rosberg's problems, but will have to do better in Q2.
Meanwhile, with Maldonado on top, Senna also has some work to do, comparatively 15th in that first session - an entire second between the pair.
Interview with Charles Pic: "Track wasn't easy... The car was much faster, unfortunately I was in traffic on the second run which was just one lap with less fuel, so it wasn't possible for me to make my lap. It's a shame but now we have to focus on the race and see what we can make on Sunday.
"I'm still learning, of course, I've just had one Formula One season. I still have plenty of things to learn. It's much harder than GP2... but the first part of the season went well for me."
Qualifying session 2 begins.
Pérez is the first driver to emerge for Q2 - he wasn't quite waiting at the end of the pitlane, but still eager as the lights go green.
Tweet from @InsideFerrari: Tyre management will be very important in Q2.
Kobayashi and Di Resta both head out too, as the sun continues to shine over the Spa circuit.
Pérez sweeps past a slower car as he begins his first flying lap of this session.
Jenson was informed over the radio he'd be going out in 3 or 4 minutes, but shots inside the garage show the mechanics fiddling quite hurriedly with the rear wing, screwdriver in hand.
Comment from BoozeBaron: "Anyone know what 107% was for Q1?"
Pérez has an early P1 with 1:48.880, but Webber is on a flying lap as I type.
Fastest for the Australian, 1:48.662.
Alonso pops up fastest as the times start to drop. All drivers are out, or have been out, for a flying lap.
Comment from Alex Andronov: "Oooh cool feature... How much taller is Michael Schumacher than Anthony Davison?"
Schumi - 174 cm, Davidson - 162.5cm, Diff - 11.5cm
Tweet from @OfficialSF1Team: sector 2 is our fastest one. need to improve in sector 1. #Checo with 1:48.880 coming back to box. #Spa #F1
Just Button and Senna remain without a time. Button is about to cross the line, Senna has returned to the garage without a time.
Button takes P1 with a 1:47.654, the fastest time of the day so far.
McLaren sweeping around the track, via @HelenArmfield.
Comment from Lukeh: "FBFB, what are the lottery numbers tonight?"
One deals in facts, Mr Lukeh, not time travel.
All drivers return to the pitlane, except Kamui Kobayashi. He is joined by Massa and Di Resta. Three drivers in action, then.
Kimi is told over the radio that they're not planning to defend his P2 time of 1:48.414.
The drop zone features Schumacher, Di Resta, Massa, both Toro Rossos and both Williams'. All could change over the remaining 2 and a half minutes though.
Button and Räikkönen remain in the garage, as all other drivers pile out on track to battle for the top ten.
Hülkenberg instructed over the radio to leave lots of room for Maldonado. Earlier Hamilton was given similar advice.
Massa crosses the line ninth, just scraping into the top ten but not safe by any stretch. Di Resta improves to eighth. Both will have another chance.
Qualifying session 2 ends.
Vergne posts the 11th fastest time, and has no chance to improve again. Maldonado up to P9.
Webber up to P3, pipped by Sergio Pérez who jumps up to second fastest.
Vettel only manages to qualify 11th!
Schumacher crosses the line 13th - Mercedes struggle, and not what he would have wanted for his celebratory weekend.
|11||S Vettel||Red Bull|
|12||N Hülkenberg||Force India|
|15||Jean-Éric Vergne||Toro Rosso|
|16||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso|
The fastest three were Button, Pérez and Räikkönen. Also in the top ten, Webber, Hamilton, Kobayashi, Alonso, Grosjean, Di Resta and Maldonado. Place your bets now.
Vettel climbs from the car and starts removing his helmet, looking disconsolate as he strolls to the back of the garage.
Interview with Nico Rosberg: "It was definitely not good. To start off with the gearbox this morning, that just makes it all the more difficult. Yea, communication, but it's probably... it's mostly my fault, just didn't get it right. That's it. 18th. Either way I don't think it would have changed that much with a five place grid penalty tomorrow. We'll need to have a good strategy tomorrow to try and get some points but it will be difficult."
Qualifying session 3 begins.
Paul di Resta leads both Lotus drivers and more out on track early.
Tweet from @OfficialSF1Team: #amazing. the gaps between P3 and P12 are very close. such a fine line between Q2 and Q3. #F1atitsbest #pureracing #Spa
Six cars out on track, Webber, Alonso, Kobayashi and Pérez scrutinising the screens carefully.
Paul di Resta has returned to the pitlane without setting a time so far. That leaves Kimi leading the way for the first flying lap.
1:48.205 for Räikkönen. P1 with that time, although it is the only time so far.
Button pips Kimi with a 1:47.686, he's looking very fast this afternoon!
Maldonado also returns to the pits without a time.
Half the session gone, five minutes remaining.
Just two laptimes on the board, with Button and Kimi returning to the garage. The rest are already there, waiting, biding their time, ready to strike.
All drivers in the pitlane now. The track falls silent.
3:30 left on the clock. Who's breaking cover first? It's Kamui Kobayashi.
Paul di Resta and Pastor Maldonado also head out.
Grosjean... Alonso... Button... they're all out there now.
Hamilton had to actively avoid Sergio Pérez who was stopped at the end of the pitlane.
Qualifying session 3 ends.
Nobody is near crossing the line for a second chance at a lap, the chequered flag has fallen, and the times are about to come in.
Kobayashi has jumped up to P2, Maldonado P3, pushing Kimi down to fourth.
Di Resta posts P5, Kimi remains P4.
Webber has a messy last corner and crosses the line fifth.
Button is already fastest and tops his own time, dropping it to 1:47.573.
Hamilton crosses the line seventh, Pérez P5 and Alonso P6.
Button keeps that pole position, making it his first for McLaren!
Kobayashi also keeps hold of his second place, impressive display for Sauber - there are cheers and hugs from Monisha on the pitwall.
|7||M Webber||Red Bull|
|10||P Di Resta||Force India|
Excuse the text, I think this is worth seeing.
An exciting front row, a very interesting top ten. Who could have predicted that?
Comment from Will^: "Imagine what the Sauber can do when being kind on it's tyres, from the front row."
Interview with Martin Whitmarsh: "Jenson struggled a bit this morning but just drove with such assurity through qualifying. I think it's been difficult here for everyone, not running yesterday, very long laps, limited amount of time. Jenson's kept calm and really done a fantastic job.
"I think he's got a good race setup, you've got to look after the tyres here of course. Provided we can look after the tyres, he should be in very good shape."
Martin also suggested he wasn't aware it was Button's first pole position. That's a boss who is paying attention!
Interview with Sebastian Vettel: "I was pretty happy with my lap, to be honest, it was just not quick enough. If you miss the last qualifying by such a little amount, it's a shame but that's racing. It could be the other way and you're in... we'll see what happens tomorrow. There's no points today, the race is tomorrow."
Interview with Mark Webber: "Disappointed, I think. We would like to have been further up the grid, not quick enough today for us to challenge for the front row... I would have liked to have been further up... I was pretty happy with my lap, maximum P5 if I'd got a bit more out of it... in general, I got the most out of what we have which at the moment is not enough."
Comment from Ryan: First time Sauber have been on the front row since Canada 2008, and we know what happened after that...
Interview with Michael Schumacher: "I feel honestly excited seeing my lap time. I pulled out more than we, and I, expected to do, so it was a good lap. I was waiting for the message that this was going to be enough... my engineer didn't come on the radio, I was hoping that was good news, but when it came, it obviously wasn't...
"We're much too slow in the mid-sector, generally if the car is not competitive, so that is where you lack the pace."
Press Conference Quotes - Jenson Button: "It's been quite a long time since I got my last pole position, back in 2009 Monaco, I think. It's pretty emotional. Sundays have been good for the past few years but Saturday's have not gone perfectly. A great qualifying session, it's so important to come back after such a long break with a good result on Saturday."
Press Conference Quotes - Kamui Kobayashi: "For me, yesterday in practice we struggled a lot, we didn't know what we were going to do. This morning was definitely better. In qualy, we didn't know how much we'd improved but we had good confidence in Spa after the summer holiday. From this, it's going to be nine races, so this is very important to us. I'm happy to have a great result here."
Press Conference Quotes - Pastor Maldonado: "I think we've been quite consistent on the qualifyings all through the season. Now it seems to be a bit more strong, the car, we've been working so hard. All through the break we've been working to understand the problems we've had. That means we're quite competitive, especially this morning, we were stronger with the setup. Very happy that the team reacted, the spirit is high in the team. I'm looking forward to the second part of the season. The races were up and down in that first part but looking forward to the second part to recover what we lost in the beginning part of the season."
Button doubles the number of times he has outqualified Hamilton.
Qualifying is over, then, the grid has been decided. Button seems emotional and happy with his P1, but Sauber have the same feelings for their P2. Fabulous front row.
Behind Pastor Maldonado has to control his driving to capitalise on a great Saturday, whilst Kimi is the nearest competitor to Alonso in the championship, and can do some damage from fourth.
Mercedes have not had a good weekend so far, and will be hoping for more from tomorrow, but it may all depend on the weather.
The forecasts suggest clear skies, plenty of sunshine, and no sign of rain. Similar to today, in fact. The race could go ahead unimpeded, and if that is the case, it could be a cracker.
I'll be back tomorrow from 12:30 GMT+1 to provide all the build up and coverage you need (well, it's a handy addition anyway).
I hope you'll join me, and until then, stay cool, calm and collected, fact fans.
All content in the series Belgium 2012
Filed under F1 live sessions
Previous event Free Practice 3 from Belgium
Next event Parade lap dancing
1 September 2012
365 F1 stories