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Vettel takes pole position for Belgian GP

- Associated Press - Saturday, August 27, 2011

SPA, BELGIUM (AP) - Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel held off Lewis Hamilton's McLaren in rainy weather in Saturday's qualifying to secure pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix.

The defending Formula One champion will start from the front for the ninth time this season. Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, celebrating his 35th birthday and a new one-year contract with Red Bull, secured third place.

Jenson Button's hopes of following up his win at the Hungarian Grand Prix took a blow as he failed to make the third and final qualifying session, and the British driver will start back in 13th on the grid.

Seven-time former champion Michael Schumacher, racing at Spa 20 years after making his F1 debut on this track, crashed out on the first lap of the first qualifying session and will start the race in last place.

Felipe Massa rescued a poor session for Ferrari by taking fourth place on the grid, but two-time former F1 champion Fernando Alonso starts from eighth spot _ although it could have been even worse for the Spaniard.

With the clock ticking down in the second qualifying session, Alonso was lagging in 11th place, but finally managed to get a clear run and then set the best time.

McLaren also had an eventful Q2, with Hamilton colliding with rookie Pastor Maldonado's Williams as he approached the line. The repairs were only minor and did not seem to impede Hamilton in Q3.

Hamilton was unsure what to make of the crash, although it appeared that Maldonado had cut across him.

"I'll have to look at it. The Williams was just sitting there, it was very slow. I had to try and get past, which I did," Hamilton said. "I saw Maldonado approaching quite quickly, he happened to swipe across me. My front wing was quite damaged. I'll sit here and wait for the stewards to call me up rather than going back to McLaren."

After holding a meeting, race stewards made the decision to drop Maldonado down by five grid positions, meaning the Venezuelan rookie driver will start Sunday's race in 21st place. Hamilton was given a reprimand for his part in the crash.

Massa survived a scare early in Q3 when he took a corner too wide and skidded over the grass.

After heavy morning rain, the track had dried somewhat for the start of the first qualifying session, although dark clouds stretched across the 4.3-mile circuit.

Barely a minute into qualifying, Schumacher's Mercedes slid across the track backward and hit the crash barriers, sending the car's back rear wheel tumbling down the track.

"I do not know what happened," Schumacher said over the team radio. "Something unexpected happened."

When Schumacher made his F1 race debut in 1991, he had to retire on the first lap because of a clutch failure.

Webber set a fast pace early into qualifying, before Button showed his skill in the wet and demanding conditions to post the fastest time toward the end of Q1, giving no indication of the troubles he would later face.

Drivers tried to make the most of the dry parts on the track as they feared more rainfall.

British driver Paul di Resta, who had crashed in Friday's first practice session, spun his Force India car and although he was able to regain control, he did not make Q2.

Adrian Sutil joined Schumacher in the paddock early into Q2 when his Force India ploughed nose-first into the crash barriers just after the notorious Eau Rouge turn, prompting a red flag and a brief delay as debris was cleared away.

In the rain-marred third practice session, Webber posted the fastest time after being fastest in Friday's second practice.

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