Jenson Button has not had a lot of good Saturdays since he became a McLaren driver in 2010. But today he picked a legendary circuit to have a great Saturday qualifying session, winning pole at the mighty Spa, his first pole position since way back in 2009 at Monaco. The occasion marks Jenson’s 50th race with McLaren. The 4 miles of roller coaster curves and flat out hills in the Ardennes forest have not been all that kind to Button in the past, he has never won here, and most of his qualifying sessions at Spa have been non-competitive for even the first 3 rows, let alone the top of the heap. So today was really a thrilling day for Button in 2012, whose year has really has been kind of a roller coaster, a season that resembles this incredible race track. Button won the first race of the year, but after that high point his year has been all valley since, with no wins at all to show while his team mate Lewis Hamilton has 2 victories, including the last race before the break at Hungary.
“It’s been quite a long time since I got my last pole position in Monaco,” Button said. “It’s been emotional. Sundays have been good the last few years, but Saturdays have not always gone perfectly. It’s so important to come back after the long break and have a good result. This is close to winning a grand prix for me.”
But the slot machine-like random returns from this day of firsts were not limited to only Jenson. Kamui Kobayashi and Pastor Maldonado both pulled off amazing results today with their second and third place showings. Kobayashi became the first driver since 2004 from Japan to start from the front row of a Formula One race. Maldonado meanwhile put a William car in the third spot for Williams-Renault, the first time since 1999 the team has held such a lofty position in F1, a long, long wait of 13 years for the proud team.
So once again, the incredible challenge that is Spa Francor-Champs is the perfect location for Formula One to explode back to life in front of race fans around the world for the nine races left in this season. The amazing thing about this year is that no driver has even been mathematically eliminated yet. Realistically the task for Jenson in the stretch run is a tall order, he sits in 7th, 88 points behind leader Fernando Alonso. But there are only 5 racers ahead of Button, and if he could string together a win or 2, he could vault right up into 3rd or 4th spot if things work out on the grid behind him.
“I need to be finishing on the podium and ahead of him in every race, which is not easy given his consistency, but this is a good start.”
With good news for some, the other side of the coin is always the bad, and they were quite a few disappointing results for a few teams today. Most disturbing was the performance of Sebastian Vettel, current World Champion and also defending his 2011 victory here at Spa. His Red Bull-Renault did not even make it out of Q2, a major flop. Vettel will at least start 10th since his team mate Mark Webber drops down 5 spots from 7th after a gearbox change penalty, making Saturday a pretty dismal day for Red Bull. Fernando Alonso cannot be too thrilled with his 6th spot, with teams like McLaren and Lotus-Renault nipping on his heels with race cars that are clearly faster than his Ferrari.
But the worst results in the 2012 season seem to belong to Mercedes GP, a team full of engineering talent, and the massive financial resources of the vast Mercedes empire behind them and even a talented driver tandem of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, today they were experiencing the humiliation of being whipped by the likes of privateers teams like Sauber, Williams and Force India. Today Rosberg managed to get knocked out in Q1, and will sit behind the lowly Toro Rossos of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne, who is rumored to be in danger of losing his seat he has been so awful this year.
So Button is in the catbird seat for this race Sunday, but everyone realizes Spa has a way of leveling the playing field. Buttons’ main danger has to be 3 time Spa champ Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus, who is in the second row in 4th spot, 7 tenths of a second back. Kimi loves racing here, and has clearly a big threat on race days, always seeming to move up the field this year, after just average performances in qualifying.
Spa to me is the place that defines this awesome sport, the breathtaking quality of the stomach churning thrill ride at Eau Rouge alone makes this place incredibly special. So this race is a thrill fest no matter what, “don’t miss” TV for sure and a absolute pleasure to view. Can’t wait!
Belgian GP – Saturday – Qualifying Session Results
POS DRIVER NATIONALITY ENTRANT TIME
1. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes 1:47.573
2. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari 1:47.871
3. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Renault 1:47.893
4. Kimi Raikkonen Finland Lotus-Renault 1:48.205
5. Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari 1:48.219
6. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari 1:48.313
7. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1:48.392
8. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes 1:48.394
9. Romain Grosjean France Lotus-Renault 1:48.538
10. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes 1:48.890
11. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 1:48.792
12. Nico Hulkenberg Germany Force India-Mercedes 1:48.855
13. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes GP 1:49.081
14. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari 1:49.147
15. Jean-Eric Vergne France Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:49.354
16. Daniel Ricciardo Australia Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:49.543
17. Bruno Senna Brazil Williams-Renault 1:50.088
18. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes GP 1:50.181
19. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Caterham-Renault 1:51.739
20. Vitaly Petrov Russia Caterham-Renault 1:51.967
21. Timo Glock Germany Marussia-Cosworth 1:52.336
22. Pedro de la Rosa Spain HRT-Cosworth 1:53.030
23. Charles Pic France Marussia-Cosworth 1:53.493
24. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth 1:54.989