Jenson Button celebrated his 50th Formula One race for McLaren by ending a three-year wait and taking pole position in qualifying at the Belgian GP on Saturday.
The pole was Button's first since the 2009 Monaco GP, the year in which he won a memorable championship with Brawn GP, and his first at McLaren and at Spa. Japan's Kamui Kobayashi put his Sauber on the front row, a career best for him and only the second time a Japanese driver has qualified so high on the grid, alongside the Briton with Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado in third place for Williams.
Button, who now has eight career poles to his credit, is only seventh in the championship and 88 points adrift of Ferrari's overall leader Fernando Alonso but has refused to give up hope.
The Briton has never won at Spa and nor has Alonso, who can rack up a record-equalling 24th successive points finish on Sunday and who qualified in sixth place behind the two Ferrari-powered Saubers.
Alonso's closest title rival, Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber, was seventh fastest but has a five place penalty due to an unscheduled gearbox change.
Kimi Raikkonen, the driver with the best record at Spa in recent years with four wins at the longest circuit on the calendar, qualified fourth for Lotus ahead of Sauber's Mexican Sergio Perez.
Sauber's form was an eye-opener, with Kobayashi only the second Japanese ever to start a grand prix on the front row after Takuma Sato who qualified second for the 2004 European GP.
The Swiss team have not qualified on the front row this century, with their last — and only second ever — appearance at the sharpest end of the grid coming at the 1999 French GP with Frenchman Jean Alesi.
Maldonado’s third place was his best qualifying since he started on pole in Spain in May.
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With little running in free practice due to the heavy rain, Karthikeyan struggled to find a good balance on his HRT F112. An improved qualifying performance may not have taken him much higher than his 24th place, but since he usually does better in the race than qualfying, it would have been a good boost.