World championship leader Jenson Button captured a crucial pole position for tomorrow's Spanish Grand Prix.
The last eight winners at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya, and 13 of the last 14 overall, have all started on pole, underlining how notoriously difficult it is to overtake on this track.
It was Button's sixth pole of his career, and third this season, snatched in the dying moments ahead of Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, with Brawn GP team-mate Rubens Barrichello third.
Felipe Massa epitomised Ferrari's improvement this weekend as he will start from a season-high fourth, with Mark Webber in his Red Bull fifth.
The bottom five, though, was equally as remarkable as it proved to be a bad day for Finland with Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen failing to make it into Q2.
Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton faired little better as he will start from 14th, the worst position of his F1 career in the dry.
With a degree of understatement, Hamilton said: "I guess it's a bit of a disappointing qualifying for us.
"We did the best we could, but the laps weren't fantastic. We had hoped to be higher up.
"But it's not last, and there's lots that can happen. It's a long tough race, so I hope we can get a point, that would be great."
With regard to Raikkonen, it was yet another dreadful error of judgment from Ferrari because as with Massa in Malaysia the team felt he was safe with his time after running for just five laps.
But as he sat in the garage his name slowly slid down the timing screen until coming to rest at 16th, his worst performance since Australia last year.
Even more galling for 2007 champion Raikkonen is that Massa topped the timesheets at the end of the opening 20-minute session.
At least Ferrari had the good grace to hold their hands up as they conceded they "miscalculated," but the mistakes continue to mount up and cost them dear.
Raikkonen said: "It's really disappointing because the car was looking in good shape this weekend.
"I was not too keen to go out again either really because I thought the time we had done would be enough."
Behind Sebastien Bourdais in his Toro Rosso, Kovalainen will start a woeful 18th, his lowest grid slot since joining McLaren prior to last season.
Afterwards, Kovalainen revealed he "didn't have the grip and...no confidence to push it (the car) whatsoever".
Ahead of this race the team had warned their car would not suit the circuit, but it is almost certain they did not expect to be in such miserable positions.
Kovalainen only narrowly finished ahead of the Force India duo, with neither Adrian Sutil nor Giancarlo Fisichella making it into Q2 for the 23rd consecutive race as they will start 19th and 20th.
The top 10 was rounded out by the Toyotas of Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli in sixth and seventh, Fernando Alonso eighth for Renault, with Nico Rosberg ninth in his Williams and Robert Kubica 10th for BMW Sauber.
In the mid-field, Williams' Kazuki Nakajima starts 11th, followed by the Renault of Nelson Piquet who came within 0.095secs of out-qualifying Alonso.
Sandwiching Hamilton are Nick Heidfeld in his BMW Sauber and the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi.
"It could have gone very wrong," said a relieved Button after a pulsating qualifying performance.
"But it was by far the best lap I've had this weekend, so I'm very happy. It was a bit of a surprise.
"When I heard the shouts I had qualified on pole, it felt very good.
"The package is a good step forward. We have to work with it a bit more, and get the most out of it - I hope we can anyway.
"But I'm excited. I didn't expect to be sat in this position at the moment."
Vettel, who has qualified in the top three in each of the five races this season, said: "We have a very strong car.
"This weekend it has worked pretty well, but not good enough to beat Jenson.
"I would have loved to have had the pole, but second position is great."
Like Button, Barrichello is also happy with the car, but knows he has to do more if he is to beat the Briton.
"A great effort from Jenson," said Barrichello.
"He is doing a really good job and deserves to be there. I just have to try harder and harder to get him."Reuse content