Toro Rosso's early Belgian Grand Prix promise came crashing down as rain before qualifying saw both Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo caught out in the first session lottery.
As the track dried following a pre-session shower, times tumbled throughout, presenting teams with the decision to run another set of intermediates or a fresh set of slicks on their final runs. Most opted for the former, guessing that the conditions would not improve sufficiently for those gambling on slicks to gain that much, but both Caterham and Marussia took the risk and made it work.
While Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton all made the cut as they took chunks out of their earlier times, Toro Rosso, Williams and Sauber all came up short, with Pastor Maldonado plummeting from P1 to P17 in the space of a couple of minutes, and Esteban Gutierrez seeing P2 transformed into P21 in a similar space of time. Williams also lost Valtteri Bottas – who qualified third in Canada in similar circumstances – while Caterham's strategy did not pay off for Charles Pic, who will bring up the rear of the grid on Sunday afternoon.
The revolving door at the top of the times eventually shut with Fernando Alonso fastest of all, ahead of Lewis Hamilton and the surprising van der Garde. Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen completed the top five.