Kimi Raikkonen has edged pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix, the Finn leading only the second all-Ferrari front row of the season at Spa-Francorchamps.

A typically close session between the leading title protagonists, less than a tenth separated the top three of Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, with championship leader Lewis Hamilton down in fourth place, almost half a second behind pole position.

Raikkonen's third pole position of the season, it came as the pendulum swung between all four drivers over the course of the qualifying session. Indeed, even on the final lap the advantages switched between the drivers over the course of the lengthy Ardennes circuit as they sought to strike a balance between the high-speed first and third sectors and the twistier second sector.

In the end though Raikkonen was able to hold it together for the ideal lap, the Finn almost three tenths faster than Massa in the first sector, before the Brazilian pulled it all back in the second sector. The crucial third and final sector however went Raikkonen's way, helping him edge his team-mate by a mere 17 hundredths of a second.

McLaren by contrast were made to look rather pressured, not least Alonso, whose otherwise impressive final lap actually came after he ruined his first attempt with a spin into the Rivage hairpin, the Spaniard losing it over the bump and enjoying a quick pirouette before progressing.

Hamilton on the other hand was rarely in the reckoning for pole position, the Brit comfortably behind Ferrari, especially in the final minutes, before then being pushed down to fourth, his lowest grid position - Nurburgring excluded - since the Spanish Grand Prix.

Behind the top four, Robert Kubica defied his engine penalty to pump in a lap good enough to place him fifth provisionally, although that will become 15th when the grid is eventually classified.

As such, those directly behind move up a place, including Nico Rosberg, the German qualifying inside the top five for the second time this season in his Williams. His lap was enough to keep Nick Heidfeld in an effective sixth place.

Mark Webber returned Red Bull Racing to the top ten, but only after a blunder in the second qualifying phase meant he didn't get around the circuit in time to set his final lap, the Australian lucky those behind were not able to improve and push him down the order.

Rounding out the top ten shootout were Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen, the duo starting up in eighth and ninth place thanks to Kubica's penalty.

Elsewhere on the grid, things between 11th and 22nd proved closer than usual, the improved pace of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Spyker marking two of the closest qualifying sessions seen this season.

Indeed, with only six drivers to be eliminated in the first qualifying phase and up to ten drivers having experienced a bit of time down in the lower end of the field over the course of the weekend, the opening session was always expected to be more exciting than usual.

And exciting it was, because while the identity of those in the drop zone on paper will surprise few, it was only after a thrilling final few seconds that flattered to deceive and kept everyone guessing until the very final car had crossed the finish line.

Indeed, with the circuit seemingly improving by several tenths as the 15-minutes progressed, those who left it as late as possible were rewarded with a spot in the second phase of qualifying. As such, the losers proved to be Sebastian Vettel, Rubens Barrichello, Takuma Sato, Adrian Sutil, Anthony Davidson and Sakon Yamamoto.

As a measure of the drastic changes made at the end of the session though, Vettel had been seventh fastest even after the clock had run down but was bumped down the leaderboard at a furious rate as those behind went quicker.

The equally close tussle behind the top four came to a head in the second phase, the gaps between fifth down to 16th prompting another mad dash for the finish line with the seconds ticking down in a bid to secure a spot inside the top ten.

However, unlike the first session, the track in the closing stages was not giving up the same amount of grip as it was and only a handful of drivers managed to improve on their times and guarantee that they would achieve a spot in top half of the grid.

Again, those that did make it and those that did not necessarily prompt many surprises given current form, with those missing the cut proving Giancarlo Fisichella for the fourth time in five races, Ralf Schumacher in 12th, David Coulthard in 13th, Jenson Button in 14th, Vitantonio Liuzzi in 15th and Alex Wurz in 16th, all of which having failed to improve on their time.

Nonetheless, all of those, barring Wurz, will get to move up a place by virtue of Kubica's grid penalty.

 

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