Heikki Kovalainen secured the first pole position of his Formula One career to put McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the shade.
The Finn blitzed the Silverstone circuit, finishing half a second quicker than the most unlikely candidate to join him on the front row in Red Bull's Mark Webber.
Kimi Raikkonen will start third in his Ferrari, with Hamilton next up following one of the most dramatic qualifying shoot-outs of the season.
Not that sitting on pole makes much difference at this circuit as there have only been two winners from that position in the last 10 years - Fernando Alonso in 2006 and Rubens Barrichello in 2003.
It is also due to rain throughout tomorrow, adding to the drama in what will be the penultimate grand prix at this track following confirmation yesterday Donington Park will play hosts from 2010.
Ahead of the race, Raikkonen stands a point away from becoming only the seventh driver in F1 history to reach the 500-point mark.
The Finn is also bidding to become the first Ferrari driver since Alberto Ascari in 1952 and 1953 to win back-to-back British Grand Prix.
But he faces a tricky task with his fellow Finn ahead of him, as well as Webber who produced the qualifying performance of his life.
As for Hamilton, he effectively blew it as on his first flying lap in the closing 10-minute Q3 he ran wide on to the gravel going into Priory.
That led to a warning from his team over the radio on his second lap: "Do not overdrive! Do not overdrive!" as he was quickest in the first two sectors, only to do exactly that.
Behind him come Renault's Fernando Alonso and the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld, followed by the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Vettel.
Remarkably, championship leader Felipe Massa is ninth in his Ferrari, with his closest challenger in BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica 10th.
David Coulthard, competing in his final British Grand Prix after confirming on Thursday he will retire at the end of the season, missed out on a place in the top 10 by 0.059secs in his Red Bull.
The Scot will start from 11th, with the Toyotas of Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli sandwiching Sebastien Bourdais in his Toro Rosso in 12th, 13th and 14th, with Kazuki Nakajima 15th for Williams.
As for the remaining Brit, Jenson Button's recent woeful run of form continued as he will start from 17th in his Honda, one place behind team-mate Barrichello.
Although there was a slight shower towards the end of the opening 20-minute Q1, Button cannot lay all the blame for his poor lap on the weather as it quickly dried in the dying moments.
Button said: "It's obviously disappointing, but then we weren't going to be massively impressive anyway.
"We knew it was going to rain, which didn't help, and then I hit traffic, so I had to abort one lap.
"Then the rain did hit, but I had to give it a go so we changed the tyres, but I just couldn't get heat into them because the circuit was dirty and slightly damp."
Looking ahead to the race, Button added: "It's going to rain, so we can have some fun.
"It means there will be different conditions, so let's see if it can make a difference."
Williams' Nico Rosberg starts a surprising 18th, with the German bemoaning ride quality problems with his car that had plagued him during practice.
And despite a number of upgrades with their cars, the Force India duo of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella are again at the rear of the grid, the latter spinning as he attempted a final hot lap.
Leading Final Positions after Qualifying:
1 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 1min 21.049secs, 2 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:21.554, 3 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:21.706, 4 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) McLaren 1:21.835, 5 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:21.875, 6 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:22.029, 7 Nelson Piquet Jr. (Bra) Renault 1:22.491, 8 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:23.251, 9 Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:23.305, 10 Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber No Time, 11 David Coulthard (Gbr) Red Bull 1:20.174, 12 Timo Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:20.274, 13 Sebastien Bourdais (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:20.531, 14 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:20.601, 15 Kazuki Nakajima (Jpn) Williams 1:21.112, 16 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Honda 1:21.512, 17 Jenson Button (Gbr) Honda 1:21.631, 18 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams 1:21.668, 19 Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:21.786 20 Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Force India 1:21.885
More to follow...