Sebastian Vettel beats Lewis Hamilton to Spa pole

By Andrew BensonBBC Sport at Spa-Francorchamps

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel took his ninth pole position of 2011, beating Lewis Hamilton into second place in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix.

In drying conditions the German beat the McLaren driver by 0.432 seconds.

Hamilton was later reprimanded by the stewards following an incident with Pastor Maldonado which led to the Williams driver being demoted to 21st.

Red Bull's Mark Webber was third, while Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was eighth with Jenson Button down in 13th place.

Scot Paul di Resta was a disappointing 18th for Force India on his Spa debut.

Brazilian Bruno Senna, the nephew of the late F1 legend Ayrton Senna, was an impressive seventh on his debut for the Renault team, three places ahead of team-mate Vitaly Petrov, who has raced in every grands prix this year.

Button blamed a "miscommunication" with his team for his poor session, saying he chose to cool his tyres, not realising he did not have time to do another flying lap.

It was a similar story for Di Resta, except that in his case his team called him in before the end of the first qualifying session, believing he had enough time in hand to make it through.

Hamilton was involved in a controversy with Venezuelan Maldonado during the second qualifying session.

The McLaren driver banged wheels with the Williams at the Bus Stop chicane as he set his fastest lap.

It happened as Hamilton was trying to ensure he would not get held up in traffic, something which might have stopped him making the top-10 shoot-out.

Then, at the end of the session, Maldonado appeared to deliberately drive into Hamilton's car as they headed down the hill from La Source, the first corner.

The race stewards in Spa, which include former world champion Nigel Mansell as the ex-driver representative on the four-man panel handed Maldonado a five-place grid penalty and gave Hamilton a warning.

Hamilton told BBC Sport after hearing the decision: "I went to speak to Maldonado, I just wanted to say, 'massive respect for you. Today - my fault, your fault, let's forget about it because we are going to be racing here together hopefully for a long time'.

"The stewards have done a fantastic job, we never want a reprimand but at least we are able to start where we finished today.

"It's great having Nigel up there, who knows what it's like to race."

Earlier, Hamilton had described the incident, saying: "I was at the end of my Q2 lap and got to the chicane and there was a Williams sitting there going very slowly, and I had to get past.

"As I was coming to the exit of Turn One, I saw a Williams coming very fast.

"He just came across me. I don't know if it was deliberate.

"The front wing was quite badly damaged and I thought my suspension was badly damaged.

"The guys did a great job to get the car back together but I think my front toe-in was slightly out."

Maldonado commented: "I accept the penalty. It was a difficult moment. It was not on purpose, maybe a mistake. I have nothing against Lewis, he is a good friend so let's keep racing."

Vettel has had a low-key weekend, with Webber fastest in every practice session, but he saved his best for when it counted, blitzing his rivals with yet another superb display.

"It was a difficult session all the way through with the drying track," Vettel said.

"I didn't feel that comfortable at the beginning but then we found a better way, I really discovered Spa for the first time, finding some new lines, and that was important.

"The last lap I tried to push as hard as I can. I think Lewis was right in front of me by a couple of seconds, and I saw him locking up. The last thing you want is to do that yourself. But it was a good lap in the end."

Ferrari's Felipe Massa was fourth fastest, ahead of Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg and Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersari - sixth place for the Spaniard representing the best qualifying performance of his career.

Senna, who had only driven the car in anger in one free-practice session at the last race in Hungary before coming here, has been increasingly impressive throughout the weekend.

The second session was temporarily halted following a crash by Force India's Adrian Sutil, who lost control coming out of Raidillon, the left-hander at the top of Eau Rouge, after going too far onto the kerb.

Alonso produced a quick lap after the resumption of qualifying to move into the top 10 but he was far from happy with the overall session.

"Traffic was one big factor because I didn't complete one clean lap in Q3," he said.

"But if all had been perfect we would still only have been fourth or fifth. We are still missing some performance in these temperatures.

"It was only 14-15C and a damp track, the worst possible conditions for Ferrari.

"I expect a good recovery tomorrow. If it's dry, as the forecast says, I think we can fight at the front because while in the cold conditions they [Red Bull] have an advantage over one lap because they can heat their tyres up, they have big degradation. So the race is still very open."

Michael Schumacher's hopes of a fairytale at the race that marks the 20th anniversary of his F1 debut ended before he had even completed a lap.

He spun on the hill down from Malmedy to the hairpin at Rivage, because he lost a rear wheel, and ended up beached in the gravel trap.