SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium - Jenson Button took his first pole position for McLaren on Saturday when he clocked the fastest time during qualifying for today’s Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.
It was the 32-year-old Briton's first pole in 60 races for the Woking-based team, who endured a tough time, particularly in qualifying during the first half of the season. The 2009 champion clocked a best lap time of the historic Spa Francorchamps circuit in one minute 47.573 seconds, edging out Japanese Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber by two tenths of a second who became the first Japanese driver in history to qualify on the front row.
The Englishman who last took pole at Monaco in 2009, was overjoyed. "It's been quite a long time since my last pole position back in 2009. It's been pretty emotional," he said. "Sundays have been good over the last few years but not so much Saturdays. It's been good to come back after such a long break and to do well on the Saturday."
Despite the emotions at the Sauber garage, level-headed Kobayashi was delighted to have qualified on the front row and expects a strong race today. "It was a great qualifying for me." He said, "Yesterday in practice, we really did struggle a lot. But this morning, we improved.
"We had good confidence in (our chances at) Spa. We expected a good weekend, but not to be second in qualifying. We expected a strong result, so we have a good chance in the race." Also of note Saturday was the shock exit from Q2 of champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull who will have to start from the fifth row Sunday.
While Button was on top in Q2, his fastest time almost a second clear of the field, defending champion Vettel failed to make the top ten shoot-outs after struggling to get the most out of his car. Vettel said: "I was pretty happy with the lap, but we weren't quick enough. There was only a little amount missing, but that's racing. I think overtaking is OK here, so we will see tomorrow."
The charismatic Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado of Williams, qualified third and said: "I'm pleased with qualifying, it was a great result for the team. I'm looking forward to the second part of the season as the races were up and down in the first part." One of Sunday's favourites for victory, Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, could only manage fourth ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez, fifth in the second Sauber.
Championship leader Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari could only manage sixth, while Red Bull's Australian driver Australian Mark Webber will start 12th after suffering a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox. That meant 2008 champion Briton Lewis Hamilton gained a place on the grid and will start alongside Alonso in seventh in the second McLaren.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean, ninth fastest in the second Lotus, Briton Paul di Resta of Force India and Williams driver German Nico Hulkenberg also all move up a place on the grid. Maldonado topped the times in the opening Q1 mini-session which saw Nico Rosberg the surprise exit in the second Mercedes. As if that wasn't bad enough, the German will drop five places after changing his car's gearbox before qualifying.
That meant he joined Caterham drivers Finn Heikki Kovalainen and Russian Vitaly Petrov, Marussia driver German Timo Glock, Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa of Hispania, Frenchman Charles Pic also of Marussia and Indian Narain Karthikeyan in the other Hispania. Although German Michael Schumacher would have hoped for more for his 300th Grand Prix, the seven times champion could only manage 13th ahead of Brazilian Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari. Toro Rosso drivers Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne and Australian Daniel Ricciardo were 15th and 16th fastest respectively while Brazilian Bruno Senna of Williams was 17th.