Vettel takes Spa pole

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, (Reuters) – Formula One  world champion Sebastian Vettel charged to pole position at the  Belgian Grand Prix yesterday after denying McLaren’s Lewis  Hamilton the top slot in the final seconds of qualifying.

In a wet and eventful session, the 24-year-old German  secured Red Bull’s 13th pole in a row and his ninth of the  season.

Vettel’s Australian team mate Mark Webber, celebrating his  35th birthday with a new one-year contract, will line up third  and alongside Ferrari’s Brazilian Felipe Massa.

“Not an easy session with the conditions changing…tomorrow  they say it is dry but I think here anything is possible,” said  Vettel, who leads Webber by 85 points with eight races remaining  but has been beaten in the last three.
Seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher, who made his  debut at the circuit 20 years ago, had a nightmare afternoon and  failed to set a time in the first phase after a rear wheel  worked loose and he skidded his Mercedes into the wall.

Hamilton, winner at Spa last year, found himself in the  middle of another controversy after clashing with Williams’  Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado in the second phase of qualifying.

Maldonado was given a five-place penalty by stewards, who  included Hamilton’s compatriot and former champion Nigel  Mansell, for causing a collision. Hamilton was reprimanded.

Video footage indicated the Williams had chopped across the  McLaren, damaging Hamilton’s front wing.

That looked like payback, despite Maldonado’s denials, for  Hamilton making contact on the inside of the last corner as the  Briton forced his way through to cross the line before the  session ended.

“It was done deliberately,” Hamilton said over the team  radio of Maldonado’s actions before McLaren fitted a new front  wing and patched up the car.

“I think it was quite serious and just fortunate that  neither of us, particularly him, was flipped into a big crash,”  Hamilton added later.

The two racers had also clashed at Monaco earlier in the  year, with Hamilton tipping Maldonado into the tyre barriers  when the Venezuelan was heading for his first points finish.

“HUGE SHOCK”

Hamilton’s team mate Jenson Button, winner in Hungary before  the summer break, was left in 13th place on the grid after a  McLaren ‘misunderstanding’.

The 2009 champion was unaware he had only two laps rather  than three and was preparing for his last attempt when the team  told him to pit.

“That is massively disappointing and a huge shock,” he said.  “A big mistake on our part. In every practice session we’ve been  in top three. Tough being back in 13th but we’ve got to deal  with it.”

Schumacher’s hopes of a first podium since his comeback last  season suffered a major setback with the 42-year-old facing a  back-row start.

“I’ve had some experience on three wheels before but to lose  a rear wheel is a bit more difficult to handle,” he said before  a paddock celebration of his career milestone with beer and  sausages in the Mercedes motorhome.
“Initially I didn’t know I’d lost a rear wheel. There is no  reason to blame anybody, we all try our best but at the end of  the day we are all humans. I’ve had some interesting races from  the back so it’s going to be entertaining.”

Brazilian Bruno Senna made an impressive start to his first  race weekend with Renault, qualifying seventh and ahead of  Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in eighth place.

Senna’s Russian team mate Vitaly Petrov qualified 10th.

It will be a dream come true to finish in the points  tomorrow,” Senna, nephew of the late triple champion Ayrton,  told reporters.

Force India’s British rookie Paul di Resta was another  casualty of the first session after spinning on his flying lap.

Both the HRTs and Virgin Racing’s Belgian Jerome d’Ambrosio  were cleared to race by the stewards despite failing to meet the  107 percent qualifying threshold, along with Schumacher.

The second phase of qualifying was halted briefly after  Force India’s Adrian Sutil spun and skidded into the tyre wall  at the top of Eau Rouge.

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