Michael Schumacher may be celebrating the 20th anniversary of his F1 debut at the Belgian Grand Prix, but Lady Luck was in no mood to shower him with gifts, the German losing his rear wheel on an out-lap in first qualifying for the 2011 event and being restricted to the back row of the grid.
The seven-time champion got only as far as the run down to Rivage when his right rear parted company under acceleration, and the Mercedes skated into the reduced gravel trap, ending his afternoon at a stroke.
The German's exit looked set, at one point, to overshadow a potential double exit by the Williams
team but, as Pastor Maldonado
and Rubens Barrichello
managed to claw their way out of the 'drop zone' as the track improved, it appeared that the usual suspects - Team Lotus, HRT and Virgin - would be joining Schumacher on the sidelines. However, just as light rain began to fall over the Ardennes once more, Heikki Kovalainen
pulled out a better lap and, despite appearing to have been impeded by a Force India
at the final chicane vaulted up to 16th.
Ironically, it was Force India
that suffered most from Kovalainen's improvement, as Paul di Resta - having spun on his penultimate flying lap - aborted his final effort, falling victim to the Lotus.
Three drivers - Jerome d'Ambrosio, Tonio Liuzzi and Daniel Ricciardo - failed to break the 107 per cent time, and all by more than a second, so the stewards and team principals will have to decide whether to permit a full grid. With the weather conditions playing a part, however, it is likely that all 24 cars will start.
Jenson Button posted the fastest time of the 20-minute session, with track conditions improving enough for laps to improve from 2min 11.886secs - set by Sebastien Buemi
early on - to 2min 01.813secs by the end.
With rain returning, however, the second session could be the trickiest of the season so far.