Mark Webber finally ended Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel’s run of poles as he clinched top spot on the grid for tomorrow’s Spanish Grand Prix.
After five in a row for the reigning world champion, Vettel had to settle for second behind Australian Webber, who grabbed the seventh pole of his career and his first since last year’s race in Belgium.
It is Red Bull’s second successive all-front row start after Vettel spearheaded the grid in Turkey a fortnight ago, with the duo on this occasion split by just 0.200secs.
Webber finished a second clear of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, with home hero Fernando Alonso giving his fans something to cheer when he snatched fourth spot at the death from Jenson Button.
It was again all too easy for Red Bull as Webber and Vettel opted to quit the top-10 shoot-out with 90 seconds remaining, safe in the knowledge no one was going to better their times.
Webber was out in front with a lap of one minute 20.981 seconds for his second pole in a row at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya, and will now look to follow that up again with victory.
Behind the top five, Renault’s Vitaly Petrov starts sixth ahead of the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, with Felipe Massa ninth for Ferrari.
Pastor Maldonado, in Q3 for the first time in his rookie year, will start ninth for Williams ahead of Michael Schumacher who opted not to run in Q3, so saving a set of tyres.
In the 15-minute Q2, Sebastien Buemi topped the seven drivers to exit in that session and will start 11th in his Toro Rosso, with team-mate Jaime Alguersuari 13th.
Sandwiched in between the duo is Sauber’s Sergio Perez, who is also two places ahead of his team-mate Kamui Kobayashi.
The star turn was Heikki Kovalainen, making Q2 for only the second time for Lotus, and giving the team their best position in a dry qualifying session of 15th.
The Finn was able to beat the Force India pair of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, who start 16th and 17th, with the Silverstone-based team suddenly having slipped to the back of the midfield pack.
The initial 20-minute session proved to be more of a cat-and-mouse affair than is usually the case due to the tyre situation.
Pirelli have this weekend unveiled their super-hard compound which was yesterday slated by Hamilton as “a disaster” – with many other drivers far from happy either.
The tyre is two-and-a-half seconds slower per lap than the soft rubber, so it was a question of which drivers would gamble on not using the softs in Q1.
Front-runners Red Bull and McLaren both survived, the latter marque more comfortable than their positions of 14th for Hamilton and 15th for Button suggest as they were two seconds clear of the drop zone.
Other teams like Ferrari and Mercedes both opted to use softs to guarantee their place in Q2, the flipside being they now have one less set of fresh rubber for tomorrow’s race.
Button recorded a 1:24.428 lap in Q1, whilst Lotus’ Jarno Trulli, who had a gearbox issue and had to have his steering wheel replaced, set a lap of 1:26.521 and will start 18th.
Rubens Barrichello also had a gearbox problem, managing just five laps in his Williams, so starts 19th ahead of Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock and Hispania Racing’s Vitantonio Liuzzi.
The Italian’s team-mate Narain Karthikeyan will line up 22nd, with Jerome D’Ambrosio in the second Virgin in 23rd ahead of the Renault of Nick Heidfeld.
The veteran German’s car caught fire on a lap in final practice due to a hole in the exhaust, and despite a frantic effort from the team to get him out for qualifying, it was all in vain.
Mercifully for the Virgin and Hispania drivers, they all qualified within the 107% time, D’Ambrosio by just 0.2secs.
Due to extenuating circumstances, Heidfeld will naturally be allowed to start the race, albeit with an engine that has already done two races as the new one in his car for this event had to be replaced.
A naturally delighted Webber said: ``It was a good session.
“We didn’t underestimate the other guys, but Seb and I thought we would be battling for pole.
“I was just praying my time went above the number one (referring to Vettel) as I crossed the finishing line, and it did.
“It was a nice lap, a good battle with Seb, and today was my day.”
The winner of this race has come from pole on the last 10 occasions, and Webber added: “I hope I can make it 11.
“I’ll be relaxed tonight, I’ll have a good sleep and I’ll come back refreshed tomorrow and try and get the victory.”
Vettel refused to concede the fact he ran without the KERS power-boost system in Q2 and Q3, unlike Webber, cost him pole.
Although the system is worth as much as 0.4secs, Vettel said: “I can’t speak of disapppointment.
“It’s not right to say I didn’t get pole because I didn’t have KERS and he did. He did a better job today.
“I’m not afraid for the race. I think we’ll be on top of it again.
“It (the KERS issue) seems to be an endless story, but the guys are pushing really hard.”
Hamilton ended up netting third by just three-thousandths of a second from Alonso, and now at least has a chance of pushing the Red Bulls in the race.
“I’m very happy with today’s result, although you can see the gap between ourselves and the Red Bulls has increased,” said Hamilton.
“I was fortunate to stay ahead of the Ferrari. It was very close there, but I anticipate we’ll be much closer than a second to Red Bull in the race, but we’ll see.”