Perhaps Mark Webber just had to take his first pole position since Spa in August last year, or perhaps he felt subtle pressure to keep his end up after his New Zealand protégé Mitch Evans had done likewise for the GP3 race. Either way, the Aussie battler was in terrific form all weekend on the circuit where he won so dominantly in 2010, and even his team-mate, Sebastian Vettel, did not look for excuses despite having lost track time with a small problem in the morning and not having a working KERS in the afternoon.
"I'm not saying that it's because I didn't have KERS that Mark's on pole," said Vettel, whose run of six straight pole positions which dates back to last season has been interrupted. "He deserved it today."
Webber's sole run in the final qualifying session yielded him a fastest-of-the-weekend time of 1min 20.981sec, enough to dislodge Vettel's1:21.181 and comfortably ahead of the 1:21.961 and 1:21.996 laps of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button respectively, who were later split by Fernando Alonso's Ferrari.
"It was a good session," Webber said. "Without being arrogant, because we respect the other guys, we figured we'd probably get the front row between ourselves, so we got through Q1 on a set of hard-compound tyres, then when we came to the crucial part of qualifying it was just a matter of getting the lap right in Q3. I was praying my number went above number one when I went under the start-line gantry, and it did. It was my day."
Vettel was philosophical. After all, second place was hardly a disaster. "I can't speak of big disappointment at the end of the day," Vettel said. "I'm happy we made a step forward. I didn't get into my rhythm immediately in Q1, in Q2 I was much happier on the soft compound, but unfortunately in Q3 I was not entirely happy with my lap. Though I lost track time this morning I did get a lap in at the end, and it was probably better than the one on quallie. But we saved a set of tyres, so we'll see."
Crucially, both Red Bull drivers could afford to reduce drag, but also ultimate grip, by activating their DRS rear wings through the final corner of the lap. Nobody else could.
"It's a measure of how good they are in that corner," Hamilton conceded. "There's no way we could do that." He flat-spotted his left front Pirelli tyre in his efforts to narrow the gap to the Red Bulls. But he does not expect it to affect his race, and believes he might still split the cars from Milton Keynes.
"We'll push as hard as we can," he promised. "I anticipate the gap will be much closer than one second in the race, but whether it'll be only tenths I can't say. We made changes to the set-up going into quallie, and it was the wrong way to be honest. We now have to go through the race with it, but I'm looking forward to a battle tomorrow."
1. M Webber (Aus) RedBull-Renault 1min 20.981sec; 2. S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault 1:21.181; 3. L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:21.961; 4. F Alonso (Spain) Ferrari 1:21.964; 5. J Button (GB) McLaren 1:21.996; 6. V Petrov (Rus) Renault 1:22.471; 7. N Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes 1:22.599; 8. F Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:22.888; 9. P Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Cosworth 1:22.952; 10. M Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes; 11. S Buemi (Swi) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:23.231; 12. S Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:23.367; 13. J Alguersuari (Spa) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:23.694; 14. K Kobayashi (Jap) Sauber-Ferrari 1:23.702; 15. H Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus-Renault 1:25.403; 16. P Di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes 1:26.126; 17. A Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes; 1:26.571; 18. J Trulli (Ita) Lotus-Renault 1:26.521; 19. R Barrichello (Bra) Williams-Cosworth 1:26.910; 20. T Glock (Ger) Virgin-Cosworth 1:27.315; 21. V Liuzzi (Ita) HRT-Cosworth 1:27.809; 22. N Karthikeyan (India) HRT-Cosworth 1:27.908; 23. J D'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin-Cosworth 1:28.556; 24 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Renault No time.