Giancarlo Fisichella’s morning got off to a bad start when he hit a rabbit during practice and had to replace his front wing.
But he seized his opportunity in an unpredictable qualifying session to grab his first pole posiiton in three years – and Force India’s first ever.
Qualifying at Spa began in cool conditions with the track temperature around 25C. The temperature proved critical during the session as the teams struggled to pick the most suitable tyres for the conditions. Unusually, the softer tyre was often not the way to go.
There were differing fortunes for the three Italians at the end of the session. Jarno Trulli took over the top spot, then lost it to Giancarlo Fisichella, who did three laps on the medium tyre to set his time. Remarkably the Force India driver was still on top at the end of Q1. It would prove not to be a one-off.
Luca Badoer, however, cut the Les Combes chicane and crashed into the barriers on his last effort, nearly taking out Sebastian Vettel as he went. Rumours suggest Fisichella could be in his car at the Italian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton had a poor final lap which left him vulnerable as the session drew to a close. He ended up 15th, just one place and two tenths of a second above the drop zone.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
16. Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1’45.951
17. Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1’46.032
18. Kazuki Nakajima, Williams-Toyota – 1’46.307
19. Romain Grosjean, Renault – 1’46.359
20. Luca Badoer, Ferrari – 1’46.957
Jarno Trulli was the fastest driver again as the second part of qualifying started. Behind him the Red Bulls began to show their pace, as did the Brawns.
Fernando Alonso, Sutil, Heidfeld, Kovalainen and Rosberg occupied the bottom five as the final laps began. Rosberg only emerged from the pits once, running a sequence of laps in the hope of building up to a quick enough time.
Fisichella once again set the fastest time, just as Hamilton was struggling to set the tenth-fastest time, a mere 0.014s quicker than Alonso. But as Heidfeld and Rosberg improved Hamilton and Alonso were squeezed out.
But the biggest surprise of all was Jenson Button, who wasn’t able to get a good time out of the soft tyres and ended up 14th an eliminated from qualifying. He was 0.4s slower than team mate Barrichello, who was sixth.
A stunning session ended with Fisichella top of the times ahead of Robert Kubica and Vettel – and some very big names knocked out.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
11. Adrian Sutil, Force India-Mercedes – 1’45.119
12. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes – 1’45.122
13. Fernando Alonso, Renault – 1’45.136
14. Jenson Button, Brawn-Mercedes – 1’45.251
15. Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren-Mercedes – 1’45.259
The final part of qualifying saw a surprising line-up compromising both BMWs, Toyotas and Red Bulls, plus Giancarlo Fisichella, Kimi Raikkonen, Rubens Barrichello and Nico Rosberg.
Most of the cars began the session on soft tyres but, as Button has discovered, they proved not to be quick enough. All the drivers bar Raikkonen pitted and switched back to the medium tyres.
Nick Heidfeld beat Raikkonen’s time on his second lap on hard tyres, but Fisichella’s penultimate run – a 1’46.308 – was too quick for any of them. Jarno Trulli got closest, with a 1’46.395 on his final effort, but had to settle for second.
Continuing an unpredictable grid, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica took third and fifth for BMW, sandwiching Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn.
The fuel weights will make interesting reading when they’re published later. But for now, it’s Fisichella and Force India’s moment to savour.
Update: Fuel weights have been announced: Trulli in strong position to beat Fisichella (Belgian Grand Prix fuel and strategy)
Read more: Belgian Grand Prix grid
Top ten drivers in Q3
1. Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India-Mercedes – 1’46.308
2. Jarno Trulli, Toyota – 1’46.395
3. Nick Heidfeld, BMW – 1’46.500
4. Rubens Barrichello, Brawn-Mercedes – 1’46.513
5. Robert Kubica, BMW – 1’46.586
6. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari – 1’46.633
7. Timo Glock, Toyota – 1’46.677
8. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault – 1’46.761
9. Mark Webber, Red Bull-Renault – 1’46.788
10. Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota – 1’47.362