x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Fisichella shocks Spa by taking pole

The qualifying times at Spa are flipped upside down as Force India earn their first pole at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Giancarlo Fisichella, the veteran Italian, is the surprise polesitter for the Formula One back-markers Force India.
Giancarlo Fisichella, the veteran Italian, is the surprise polesitter for the Formula One back-markers Force India.

The qualifying times at Spa were flipped upside down as Force India earned their first pole at the Belgian Grand Prix, while Jenson Button, the championship leader, will sit 14th on the grid. In a remarkable hour at the Spa circuit, Giancarlo Fisichella ? the man being touted to replace the hapless Luca Badoer at Ferrari ? gave Force India their first F1 pole, although it remains to be seen how much fuel is in the car. It is the veteran Italian's fourth pole of his career, and his first since Malaysia in 2006, with Toyota's Jarno Trulli second and the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld in third. Force India are now on course to score their first point as they have yet to break their duck in 29 races since entering the sport.

Jenson Button's Formula One world title hopes suffered a crushing blow. For the first time this year Brawn GP's championship leader failed to make it into the top-10 shoot-out, with the 29-year-old down in a miserable season-low 14th. His teammate and fellow title contender Rubens Barrichello is fourth, followed by the second BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica in a return to form for the team that will be out of business at the end of the year. Behind the Pole comes Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, Timo Glock in his Toyota, and then the Red Bull duo of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in eighth and ninth, with Williams' Nico Rosberg 10th. The 15-minute middle session was not just a disaster for Button, but also for the McLaren duo of reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen.

After victory in Hungary and starting on pole last weekend for the European Grand Prix in Valencia, it was a return to McLaren's poor form from earlier in the year. Hamilton starts 12th, with his car struggling in the twisty middle section of the track, while Kovalainen is 15th, his second worst qualifying display this season. The McLarens were both beaten by Force India's Adrian Sutil, who occupies 11th on the grid, with Renault's Fernando Alonso another big-name casualty in Q2 as the double world champion starts 13th. As for Luca Badoer, he can consider himself out of a job following tomorrow's race in the wake of another abysmal performance.

The 38-year-old replacement for the recuperating Felipe Massa will again start at the back of the grid, as he did last weekend on his Ferrari debut for the European Grand Prix in Valencia. Badoer ended the opening 20-minute Q1 in disgrace when he broke the rear suspension of his car by careering backwards into a tyre wall after passing Vettel on the approach to Les Combes. Ahead of the Italian, likely to be replaced by Fisichella who was remarkably fastest at the end of Q1, the Toro Rossos of Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari start 16th and 17th. Williams' Kazuki Nakajima is down in 18th, both the team's and the Japanese driver's worst grid position of the year, with Renault's Romain Grosjean also struggling on his second outing as he is 19th.

* PA Sport