If there's any job which is more difficult than being an F1 driver, then it must be as a meteorologist at Spa-Francorchamps. The weather was all over the place and dominated qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon, causing upsets at the end of Q1 and then teasing us with the possibility of a maiden pole position for Force India's Paul di Resta, only for the weather to bait-and-switch at the last second and instead hand glory to Lewis Hamilton who claimed the top spot for the fourth race in a row.
Hamilton will start Sunday's race alongside Sebastian Vettel, with Mark Webber alongside Nico Rosberg on the second row and di Resta pushed back in the final seconds of Q3 to join Jenson Button on row three. But those bald end positions only tell a small part of the story of Saturday afternoon's action in Belgium.
It had been clear that qualifying was imminent when the heavens opened and heavy rain began to fall just ten minutes before the green light for Q1. That made things interesting for the drivers, who had enjoyed a dry FP3 session earlier in the day and who now had to get their heads around an altogether different situation for qualifying at the 20-turn, 4.352-mile Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. At the very least, it banished any concerns about tyre safety, as the teams made haste to bolt on wet weather tyres.
Fearing that track conditions would only deteriorate, all 22 drivers were quickly out on track to set a lap, with Williams' Pastor Maldonado the first to slip off the track at Les Combes as the Mercedes drivers set the early pace with Nico Rosberg's 2:06.865s putting him over a tenth ahead of team mate Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Mark Webber.
The wet tyres quickly did their job clearing a dry line around the circuit as the rain stated to ease off again, meaning that new faces leapt to the top every few seconds. Sebastian Vettel leapt up from tenth spot on his first run to the top spot next time around with a time of 2:06.279s, and teams were soon on the radio to caution their drivers to take care of the intermediates and not allow them to overheat too quickly while the strategies tried to determine the tipping point for a change to the slick compounds.
Jut after the midway point of the 20 second Q1 session Lewis Hamilton reclaimed the top spot for Mercedes with a lap of 2:04.618s over a second faster than Lotus F1's Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. Rosberg quickly pushed the benchmark time down to 2:03.883s which also had the effect of bumping Max Chilton out of the 107 per cent zone at the bottom of the timing screens. Marussia decided to throw caution to the wind and switch Chilton and his team mate Jules Bianchi to a set of mediums tyres, with Caterham doing likewise for Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic. The gamble didn't pay off, van der Garde struggling through Les Combes while Chilton kept it on the island but failed to find the expected boost in pace.
Pastor Maldonado turned up the heat on van der Garde and Chilton with a lap of 2:03.072s pushing them both further outside the 107 per cent cut-off, and there were quicker laps still from Force India's Paul di Resta, Red Bull's Mark Webber and Sauber's Nico Hülkenberg before Hamilton and Rosberg once more reassumed control ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button.
Then finally at the last minute the tipping point in the track conditions was reached, and the slicks switched on with shocking effect: suddenly van der Garde, Chilton and Bianchi weren't just within the cut-off, they were into the top 16 - comfortably so at that - and through to the next round of qualifying. Those caught out in the final avalanche of fastest laps were the two Williams of Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas, both Toro Rossos of Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, and the Sauber of Esteban Gutiérrez along with Caterham's Charles Pic.