Jenson Button ended a more than three-year wait for pole position by securing top spot on the grid for tomorrow’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Button’s last pole was in the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix en route to securing the world title that year, but at Spa-Francorchamps he found himself in a class of his own today.
It was the 32-year-old’s first pole since joining McLaren, his first for 61 races, and the eighth overall of his Formula One career.
Behind him an unusual top three – given none of the top-five title contenders performed as expected – are Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi in a career-high second and Pastor Maldonado in his Williams.
Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, many people's tip for pole here, at least equalled his best qualifying performance of the year with fourth, whilst Sauber's Sergio Perez starts fifth.
Championship leader Fernando Alonso lines up sixth for Ferrari, followed by Red Bull’s Mark Webber, although the Australian will drop to 12th as he serves a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
It means Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren, 0.8secs adrift of team-mate Button, moves up to seventh, with Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta in his Force India eighth and ninth respectively.
Remarkably, Sebastian Vettel underlined what a difference a year can make as just 12 months ago he won this race from pole, but tomorrow will start from a shock 10th after qualifying 11th.
The reigning double world champion missed out on a place in the top-10 shoot-out by 12 thousandths of a second in his Red Bull, and for the second time this season.
Explaining his situation, Vettel said: “There was no problem, I just wasn’t quick enough. The speed wasn’t there.”
Behind Vettel, trailing Alonso by 42 points in the championship, will be fellow German Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India, then Webber, with Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher starting 13th on the occasion of his 300th grands prix.
For the eighth time in 12 races this year Ferrari’s Felipe Massa could not make it out of Q2 and lines up 14th ahead of Toro Rosso duo Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo, with Bruno Senna 17th in his Williams.
In dry conditions, in stark contrast to yesterday when heavy rain wrecked practice and virtually washed out the second 90-minute session, there was little scope for an upset in Q1.
But the 20-minute run still conjured a surprise as Nico Rosberg’s day of woe continued, with the German failing to make it through into Q2.
With precious little running from yesterday, Rosberg managed only five laps in final practice earlier today due to a gearbox issue that necessitated a change, so incurring a five-place penalty.
It means the Mercedes driver, who qualified 18th, will now start 23rd and on the back row, with only HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan behind him.
The Caterham duo of Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov move up to 18th and 19th, with Marussia duo Timo Glock and Charles Pic 20th and 22nd, sandwiching HRT’s Pedro de la Rosa in 21st.