The only thing that was predictable about qualifying for the British Grand Prix
was how thoroughly unpredictable it turned out to be, in a session that saw a 90 minute red flag, an ignominious early exit for one of the home favourites, and a demonstration of world class wet-weather driving from two former world champions - not to mention a certain Australian gentleman digging deep and showing true grit.
A chaotic qualifying session got underway just minutes after a new rain front started to move over the Silverstone circuit. That resulted in all 24 cars queuing right down pit lane to get out on the track as soon as possible, before the track got too wet to set competitive qualifying times or the conditions worsened still further.
In fact the rain lessened somewhat as Q1 went on, to the point where the two Saubers even risked going out on slicks rather than intermediates as the clock counted down. But that was too ambitious, since while the conditions in one part of the track would momentarily improve they would promptly worsen somewhere else, the entire character of the track fluctuating almost minute by minute and metre and metre around the 3.66-mile circuit.
That made it a complete lottery over who got the chance to get a fast lap: it came down to the changing conditions and being able to find enough room ahead to not get hung up in traffic. Cars were falling over each other, and even team mates proved a danger as Lotus duo Romain Grosjean
and Kimi Raikkonen
came close to finding on their outlaps. Raikkonen had in any case been told that his KERS was out of action, making the next 20 minutes even more of a struggle for him than it might have been.
In contrast to usual qualifying practice, the cars came out on their intermediates set to run for as long as their fuel loads would take them. No resting up in pit lane today, waiting for the optimal moment to come out: all that mattered was being out on track throughout, ready to take advantage of the slightest easing of the treacherous conditions.
It soon became clear that among the drivers facing a premature exit were all three of the British contingent. Lewis Hamilton
and Paul di Resta managed to stay just out of reach of the danger zone, but Jenson Button
was firmly in it. He had one last run after bolting on a new set of intermediate tyres, and it looked to be coming together - at least until it got to the final complex of Vale and Club which was getting the worst of the continuing showers.
Not only did the corners slow Button's finally post-chequered charge, it also caught out Timo Glock
who spun the Marussia out of the final corner and left the car stranded right across the start/finish straight - and crucially, bringing out the yellow flags in the area. Button backed off and crossed the line down on the time he needed to make it through to the second part of qualifying. He was out.
The other cars failing to progress were the usual line-up of Marussia, Caterham, and HRT drivers; the man most relieved by Button's woes was Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, who just sneaked into Q2 as a result.
Five minutes later and the cars - now down to just 17 of them - queued up once more for the start of Q2, but conditions were going downhill fast. The size of the rooster tails was increasing by the minute, and any talk of slicks was a fond but very distant memory. The two Ferraris of Fernando Alonso
and Felipe Massa
risked a run on intermediates but found them hopeless for the donations, so they wasted time coming back onto pit lane to join the rest of the field on extreme wets.