Toro Rosso technical director James Key believes that the team owes its drivers an apology after failing to get them through a tricky opening qualifying session at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Rain before the first 20 minutes of action on Saturday afternoon at Spa-Francorchamps made track conditions something of a lottery but, when Caterham and Marussia introduced the additional gamble of fitting slicks to their cars, there was always likely to be an upset.

Although the backmarkers did not make an impression on their opening laps, by the end of the session, those on intermediates were definitely in range, with both Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo on the cusp.

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"Up until Q1 we had been having a strong weekend, looking competitive in the dry and not too bad in the wet in FP1," Key sighed, "Jean-Eric, in particular, was showing good form and looking forward to qualifying.

"We went into Q1 knowing there was a good chance the track would dry out towards the end. We timed our final tyre change at a similar moment to others but, somehow, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time today. We should have had two cars in Q3, instead they both went out in Q1.

"Should we have switched to slicks? Some of the cars that are usually at the back of the grid took that risk but, in our case, it's hard to know. As a team, we should apologise to the drivers, work out what went wrong to ensure we don't do it again and, most importantly, see what we can do to still get the best out of the cars tomorrow."

For Vergne, the early exit was a particular blow, having twice put himself into the top five on the practice timesheets. The Frenchman, who makes no secret of his affinity for Spa, recognised Toro Rosso's unerring ability to get its cars working around the Ardennes venue as early as Thursday, but was clear where the blame should lie.

"What happened today is easy to explain, it was just a team mistake," he claimed, "As soon as I left the pits for the second time, I knew I was in trouble. I also had a bit of trouble with traffic, with some cars on slicks around me.

"These things shouldn't happen, but everyone gets it wrong now and again. It is very frustrating, as the car has been good enough this weekend to qualify really well in either the wet or the dry. This was a clear missed opportunity, as I believe I could have been in the top five in the dry and the car was clearly working well in the wet too.

"It's going to take me a bit of time to get over the disappointment, but now there is no use getting angry and, in any case, I really believe I can still have a good race tomorrow and score some points. We can learn from this afternoon and ensure we don't make this mistake again."

For team-mate Ricciardo, the failure to progress beyond Q1 came at a bad time, with his every move under scrutiny while the paddock waits for Red Bull to confirm the successor to Mark Webber for 2014.

"That was down to bad timing more than anything else," he noted, "I believe we should have waited a bit longer before fitting the second set of intermediates. We went out at the very start of the session and that went fine, with a wet track and the chance of it getting a bit wetter before drying out later. But we went out too early for that second run and, by the second lap, the tyres were already worn and that was when the track conditions were at their best.

"Obviously, it's very frustrating, but now all we can do is put it behind us and concentrate on tomorrow. We have to learn from this and make sure we get it right next time."

Vergne will start 18th, alongside Williams' Pastor Maldonado on Sunday, while Ricciardo will occupy the inside of row ten, with Valtteri Bottas in the other Williams outside him.