Force India driver Giancarlo Fisichella took pole position Saturday in an unpredictable qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix.
The 36-year-old Italian earned the Indian team its maiden Formula One pole after producing a quickest lap of 1 minute, 46.308 seconds around the high speed Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
"It's unbelievable," Fisichella said. "I expected to be competitive but I didn't expect to be on pole."
Jarno Trulli of Toyota starts second ahead of BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld following a qualifying session that threw up many surprises.
Overall F1 leader Jenson Button will start from a season's worst 14th place after failing to reach the last qualifying session for the first time, while Brawn GP teammate Rubens Barrichello will start fourth on the grid. Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel and teammate Mark Webber will attempt to take some points from Button's lead, but begin from eight and ninth, respectively.
But the spotlight is on Force India, which is trying for its first point from its 30th race.
"Starting from pole position one must try to win a race but, equally, one must take care not to do anything stupid," Force India team principal Vijay Mallya said.
Trulli was as surprised as anyone considering Toyota had been struggling this season.
"It's a good question that none of us can answer," Trulli said about his car's performance. "We came here and straightaway we looked very strong."
The top three have combined to make 594 race starts, but only Heidfeld has yet to cross the finish line first, something the German hopes to change considering that BMW Sauber is pulling out of F1 at the end of the season.
"It's obviously very important for everybody in the team," Heidfeld said. "BMW wanted to pull out on a high. It's great that we can show we have good performance."
Teammate Robert Kubica starts fifth ahead of Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen — a three-time winner in Belgium — and Toyota's Timo Glock.
Button will just hope to finish in the points as he leads Barrichello by 18 with six races to go. Webber trails Button by 20.5 points and Vettel by 25. Brawn GP leads Red Bull by 27.5 points in the constructors' series.
Vettel called qualifying "a total surprise" that he couldn't explain.
"In the third session I don't know why we lost in comparison to others," said the German, who took comfort from at least being ahead of Button. "We have good race pace and a very good car. We'll see the weights and where we are and then decide on a strategy."
In a season where the standings have been turned upside down by regulation changes, few would have predicted Fisichella would prevail in Belgium. Fisichella, whose best grid position through 11 races this season was 13th, was a 150-1 underdog to take top spot.
"It's a crazy season," Trulli said. "You see teams changing and being competitive from one race to another. It's hard to get a handle on it."
It was an unpredictable qualifying session in cool weather of 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) as Red Bull, Toyota, Force India, BMW Sauber and Ferrari all showed strong pace along the Ardennes hills.
Like Button, former champions Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, who was coming off victory at Hungary and a second place at Valencia, and Renault driver Fernando Alonso failed to get out of the second session and start 12th and 13th, respectively.
Fisichella denied his drive was aimed at persuading Ferrari to hire him to fill in for the injured Felipe Massa.
"I'm a Force India driver and I have a contract with them," the three-time winner said. "And there has been no contact with Ferrari."
Massa's replacement, Luca Badoer, starts last for the second straight race after finishing more than one second off the cut-off point for the first session.
The 38-year-old Italian had hoped to reach the second session but instead ended his day by spinning off and slamming into the wall at Les Combes to snap the axel on his rear left tire.
Badoer's seat is not assured following a 17th-place finish at the European GP, which was his record 49th race without a point. But he sounded confident of racing in Monza despite a Ferrari car qualifying last for two straight races.
"In Monza, I prepare a big step that everyone is waiting (for)," Badoer said.