|Pastor Maldonado added some drama to a wet and action-packed qualifying session at Spa [GALLO/GETTY]
Formula One returned with a bang after its mid-season break with an eventful qualifying session on Saturday for the Belgium Grand Prix.
Michael Schumacher's celebration of 20 years in the F1 game came to a premature end after he span out on his first lap of qualification. The German champion was lucky to escape injury after a wheel fell off during the incident.
Williams's Pastor Maldonado reminded fans of the sometimes darker side of racing as he appeared to drive into the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton after the second qualifiying round.
However, Sebastian Vettel managed to avoid incident to claim another pole position. The runaway leader proved his doubters wrong once more by driving a great last lap to seal his ninth pole of the season. Some critics had suggested Vettel would find it hard to keep ahead of the pack over the last eight races.
Vettel held off Hamilton's McLaren in difficult weather conditions with his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, celebrating his 35th birthday and a new one-year contract with Red Bull, securing 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.
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.
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 7-kilometer 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.
| Webber celebrated birthday and a new contract with an Australia cake topped with kangeroos [GETTY]
"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 continued to 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, span 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 span and 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.
With both Schumacher and Button racing from further back than usual, the Belgium GP promises to be as eventul as qualifying, especially if there is more rain at the circuit known for its wet and wild past.