Some suggest the weather in Spa is unpredictable. Actually, it's precisely the opposite. It will rain here. It always does. Goes with the territory. What is difficult is predicting exactly when it will rain.
Precipitation was forecast for qualifying yesterday and it duly arrived, in the middle of the first of the three sessions. But then it dried out again and the second session was quite smooth. Lewis Hamilton headed it from his McLaren team-mate, Jenson Button, and the Red Bull duo of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
Going into the third and crucial session, which decides pole position, rain was on the way again so everybody was on their mettle to get out the moment the track opened, to set banker laps. Webber's was the best, 1min 45.778sec. Hamilton's, by contrast, wasn't great: 1:46.203. Not fast enough to win the cigar, nor to beat Robert Kubica in his back-on-form F-ducted Renault, or Vettel.
As they all regrouped for their final runs, the clouds were darkening. Time to do the business or get off the pot. Webber, Button and Vettel all tried and failed to go quicker. But Hamilton was pushing for all he was worth despite dampness at La Source, the critical first corner that determines how much momentum you can build up before the descent, compression, and directional change prior to climbing up Eau Rouge. He lost three-and-a-bit tenths of a second there alone, but round the rest of the lap he made up time beautifully to record 1:45.863. Second fastest time, front row of the grid. One of those wonderful laps.
"That was quite a tricky session, and Mark did a fantastic job," Hamilton said after wishing the Australian a happy birthday for the previous day. "I was a bit disappointed with my first lap, because I wasn't really able to pull the time out of the tyres. On the second lap, Turn One was a little bit damp, but the rest was dry so I was able to use the tyres. The potential was there for P1, but to be P2, on the front row, is a good position for us.
"I was quite happy with the car. We'd made some changes going into qualifying, which is rare for us, and fortunately they were the right ones.
"But it was very difficult out there. I was the first one to go out on the final runs, so I was the one who really had to picture and understand all the dark patches on the road, whether they were just different Tarmac or wet areas that could affect you, and you wouldn't really know until you hit them. We were all on a knife-edge out there."
Webber, meanwhile, proved another point by outqualifying his team-mate, Vettel, on a true racer's circuit. Coming on the day after Webber turned 34, it was another excellent performance from the championship contender who just won't go away.
"We knew the first lap would be pretty important, because round here it can be so unpredictable," said Webber. "The weather this weekend has been almost unique even for Spa, so on and off.
"I was really happy with my first lap, but you never know in this company, so I pushed to the limit and it proved to be enough for pole halfway through. For sure the weather made it a little difficult. It was pretty tense at times in that sort of situation. It was easy to get outside the bubble; miss a braking point and you can be out. It was an easy day to get egg on your face."
The chances are that may be easier still this afternoon, with heavy rain predicted, which could render the 44-lap event a lottery.
"It's a great place to get pole, a beautiful circuit, so I'm going to enjoy that tomorrow and do my best," Webber concluded. Behind him, Hamilton, Kubica, Vettel and Button will sit calmly, intent only on spoiling that enjoyment.
Belgian Grand Prix qualifying result from Spa-Francorchamps 1. Mark Webber (Aus) RedBull-Renault 1min 45.778sec; 2. Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:45.863; 3. Robert Kubica (Pol) Renault 1:46.100; 4. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) RedBull-Renault 1:46.127; 5. Jenson Button (GB) McLaren 1:46.206; 6. Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:46.314; 7. Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Williams-Cosworth 1:46.602; 8. Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes 1:46.659; 9. Nico Huelkenberg (Ger) Williams-Cosworth 1:47.053; 10. Fernando Alonso (Sp) Ferrari 1:47.441; 11. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes 1:47.874 (relegated to 21st place on grid after penalty); 12. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes 1:47.885; 13. Jaime Alguersuari (Sp) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:48.267; 14. Vitantonio Liuzzi (It) Force India-Mercedes 1:48.680; 15. Sebastien Buemi (Swit) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:49.209; 16. Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus-Cosworth 1:50.980; 17. Timo Glock (Ger) Virgin-Cosworth 1:52.049; 18. Jarno Trulli (It) Lotus-Cosworth 2:01.491; 19. Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) BMW Sauber-Ferrari 2:02.284; 20. Bruno Senna (Bra) HRT-Cosworth 2:03.612; 21. Sakon Yamamoto (Japan) HRT-Cosworth 2:03.941; 22. Pedro de la Rosa (Sp) BMW Sauber-Ferrari 2:05.294; 23. Lucas Di Grassi (Bra) Virgin-Cosworth 2:18.754; 24. Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Renault No time.