The Belgian Grand Prix is notorious for its unpredictable weather, and a truly chaotic qualifying session saw both Williams drivers exit qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix early on Saturday afternoon, with Pastor Maldonado ending up in 17th and team-mate Valtteri Bottas all the way down in 20th.

After qualifying, Maldonado - who qualified in third in last year's trip to Spa - was left to bemoan the intermittent rain showers that had meant he couldn't pull off a clean lap when the track was at its fastest.

"Today the changing weather conditions made it difficult to be on the right tyres at the right time and we went on to the intermediate tyre a bit too early," he said. "The lap here is very long and by the time I got to my second lap when the track was improving, the tyres had already gone and I couldn't be competitive."

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However the Venezuelan did manage to find some cause for optimism. "The cars race pace is quite good so we will be pushing hard to make up places and I still think we have an opportunity to finish in the top ten," he said, sensing an opportunity for progress for a team that only recently scored its first point of the 2013 F1 season in Hungary.

Maldonado's rookie team-mate Bottas endured another frustrating afternoon, only one row from the back of the grid on a day that saw smaller teams such as Caterham and Marussia glean the maximum result from the changeable weather.

"It was a disappointing qualifying because we had the ability to be higher but were caught out by the changing track conditions," said the Finnish driver. "We went out on intermediate tyres earlier than others but the track was drying faster than we expected and by the end we could probably have got away with being on dry tyres."

The 23-year-old was undoubtedly disappointed that he wasn't able to replicate the form that saw him qualify third in similar conditions for the Canadian Grand Prix. However his enthusiasm for competing in such conditions remained undimmed as he looked ahead to Sunday's race.

"It's a shame as there was a good opportunity to do well today, but hopefully the weather will be like this tomorrow as it gives us the chance to look at different strategy options," he said.

At the end of a difficult day for a team which has taken several victories at this famous circuit - albeit not since Damon Hill triumphed in 1994 - the final word went to the relatively optimistic team principal Xevi Pujolar.

"Overtaking is possible at Spa-Francorchamps and we have a good car for the race with a good top speed, so we can still make progress in the race tomorrow," he said.

By Philip Barclay