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.