Spa-Francorchamps: World champion Sebastian Vettel defied his doubters on Saturday when he powered his Red Bull into pole position for Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix. (Agencies)
In capricious conditions at the sprawling and spectacular Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Belgian Ardennes, the 24-year-old leader of this year's title race demonstrated no lack of pace or form as he outpaced nearest rival Lewis Hamilton in the closing second of a dramatic qualifying session.
Briton Hamilton, the 2008 champion, suffered damage to his McLaren car when he was smashed into deliberately by Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado's Williams at the end of Q2 and German Michael Schumacher, the seven-time champion, was eliminated in the opening seconds when he suffered a mechanical failure on his Mercedes.
For seven-time champion Schumacher this was no way to celebrate the 20th anniversary since he made his Formula One debut.
Hamilton, with the side-pod of his car held by heavy black tape, wound up second by four-tenths of a second but a full second clear of third-placed Australian Mark Webber in the second Red Bull.
Brazilian Felipe Massa was fourth for Ferrari ahead of German Nico Rosberg of Mercedes, Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari of Toro Rosso and, remarkably, Brazilian Bruno Senna, on his debut with the Renault team after an acrimonious promotion in place of German Nick Heidfeld.
Two times champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari was eighth ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez of Sauber and Russian Vitaly Petrov in the second Renault.
Vettel's pole was his ninth this year and the 24th of his career and brought him his best starting position to date in Belgium.
"Oh yes, oh yes!" he screamed on his slowing down lap. "That's the answer."
Vettel has failed to win any of the last three races and only one of the last five after a dominant start to the season with five wins in six races.
Aside from Schumacher the other major disappointment was the performance of Hamilton's teammate Jenson Button, the winner in Hungary last time out who failed to make it past Q3.
The 2009 champion explained: "I did my first lap and then cooled the tyres not knowing I didn't have any laps left. I was second quickest when I did my lap and then I didn't get another chance. Wow, that is massively disappointing and a huge shock.
"A big mistake on our part. In every practice session we've been in top three. Tough been back in 13th but we've got to deal with it."
Spa-Francorchamps: World champion Sebastian Vettel defied his doubters on Saturday when he powered his Red Bull into pole position for Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.