Formula One world championship leader Jenson Button missed out on a top ten qualifying spot for the first time all season as his struggles with an off-the-pace Brawn car continued at Spa-Francorchamps. Countryman Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, knows all about starting races from lowly positions in 2009....

Having seen team-mate Rubens Barrichello return to the top step of the podium in Valencia last weekend, while he himself struggled to add a couple of points to his championship tally, Button had hoped to redress the situation at one of his favourite circuits. However, while Barrichello rode the wave of momentum into Belgium, the Briton missed the cut for Q3 for the first time as qualifying proved to be unexpectedly close - and featured some unexpected names.

As has been the case at other rounds where temperatures have not reached the levels at which the BGP001 works best, Button struggled with the balance of his car throughout qualifying, with a lack of rear grip on the option tyre proving crucial in the middle sector. With some quick lap times being set around him, the Briton was not able to make it out of Q2 and will start from 14th place on the grid, Brawn's worst position of the season so far.

"I didn't expect to qualify in 14th position, but we really struggled with grip levels, particularly on the softer tyre" the championship leader sighed, "The car hasn't felt quite right all weekend and, unfortunately, I wasn't able to get any more out of it today.

"Rubens and I are usually very closely matched, but he was quick on the option and I wasn't, so we need to look into the reasons for that. I just couldn't find any grip on the softer rubber, so the rear end felt unstable and I had no confidence under braking, particularly in the middle sector. It's strange as our set-ups are different, but not by much. It's going to be very tough in the race from here, but at least we have more time to choose our strategy. We need to get it right and see if we can score some points tomorrow."

Team boss Ross Brawn acknowledged the closeness of the times in qualifying, and the fact that they had led to 'one of the most mixed-up grids of the season'.

"It is great for the sport, and will probably make for a very interesting race tomorrow, but it's fair to say that qualifying got away from us a little bit today with Jenson," he admitted, "We have been struggling with the car balance on his side this weekend and, although some changes were made overnight, we were not able to get the car to a position which he felt comfortable with.

"Looking on the positive side, however, our main championship rivals are behind one of our cars and only a few places ahead of the other. We have focused on our race performance during the practice sessions here and believe we will have the pace to take the fight to them tomorrow."

Barrichello, currently Button's closest title rival after his European GP success, qualified fourth, ahead of both Red Bull cars. The Brazilian ran close to the front of the field as he worked on getting the best from his car on the softer option tyre, and progressed comfortably through Q1 and Q2 before his fastest lap in the final phase proved good enough for a spot on row two.

"The results today have to be one of the biggest surprises of the year, and it's great for Giancarlo Fisichella to be up there on pole - it's good to see that the 'old-timers' still have it!" Barrichello grinned, "We've been quite aggressive on the strategy and the race is wide open tomorrow, so I'll push as much as I can and see if we can get a good result from here."

Hamilton, meanwhile, had entered the weekend as many people's favourite to set the pace but, despite finding a satisfactory balance with his McLaren in morning practice, the team suddenly found the pace upped for qualifying.

While the Briton scraped through Q1, setting 15th fastest time on the final lap of his first run on the prime tyre, he felt the car was lacking grip, particularly through the high-speed corners in the middle of the lap. Despite a maximum effort in Q2, he still could not get the car to perform to his liking and finished twelfth overall, unable to match the increased pace of the frontrunners.

"We did the best job we could today," Hamilton sighed afterwards, "We'd always known the car would struggle in the mid-sector corners, and being one second down in the sector shows the true downforce level of our car. We expected that we wouldn't have as good an aero package as some of the others - we just didn't know to what extent. I guess today we found out.

"But I'm not too disappointed - this year has been a rollercoaster ride for everyone, but I'm enjoying it still and I love driving this track. My plan for tomorrow is a points finish."

McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen didn't fare any better, also missing the Q2 cut in 15th place on the timesheets. Like Hamilton, the Finn pushed incredibly hard in qualifying, but struggled to match the pace shown by the leaders.

"This morning, we started to become a little surprised by the pace of some of the other cars," Kovalainen admitted, "We were struggling in the high-speed corners a little more than in either Hungary or Valencia, where the circuit configurations are slower. But we expected today to be tough and our results show we are still lacking in high-speed efficiency, downforce and straight-line speed.

"Still, it was very close today, there was quite a bit of traffic in the session and, with just a couple more tenths, we could have made it into Q3. However, I feel confident we can go forwards from here - we know where we are and we're not down because of this. We've shown progress compared with Silverstone and we'll keep pushing to improve on our issues."