Rubens Barrichello claimed a crucial home pole as both his title rivals had disasters in a remarkable, wet and extremely long Brazilian Grand Prix qualifying session, which lasted nearly three hours in total thanks to a string of rain-induced stoppages and delays.
World Championship leader Jenson Button will start only 14th, having stayed out too long on full wets as the track improved in Q2. But he at least has a large points lead to fall back on, whereas Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel qualified an even worse 16th and needs at least second place tomorrow to stay in the title hunt heading to Abu Dhabi.
Mark Webber joins Barrichello on the front row in the second Red Bull, ahead of another great qualifying effort from Force India's Adrian Sutil in third.
Q1 was first red flagged after four minutes when Giancarlo Fisichella spun his Ferrari at the foot of the Senna S and stalled on the racing line, leaving him at the tail of the grid. With conditions near impossible, race control announced that the session would be halted until the weather relented at least slightly.
As the skies became a little lighter, the session was restarted following a 12-minute pause, and although the spray and standing water remained a major issue, the times were immediately 12sec faster than the pre-red flag laps.
Vettel had been fastest by a full second among the seven cars that set times prior to the stoppage, but he was quickly pushed down the order to 16th -- and could not improve. A trip off the road at Turn 5 did not help, and with the rain coming down harder he again he abandoned his final lap, leaving Vettel facing a near impossible task in tomorrow's race as he strives to stay in title contention.
Both McLarens -- running dry setups -- also made shock Q1 exits, with Lewis Hamilton 18th behind Heikki Kovalainen having gone off at Turn 5 and spun through the sodden grass.
The five minute break before Q2 then stretched to 20 minutes as the officials hoped the rain would ease again - and then the red flags flew before any flying laps were completed as Tonio Liuzzi aquaplaned heavily into both the inside and outside barriers approaching the Senna S. The Force India was wrecked but Liuzzi was unhurt.
The subsequent stoppage lasted nearly an hour and a half as track inspection after track inspection reported no improvement in the circuit's condition. But finally the skies cleared two hours after the session began, and Q2 was able to proceed.
Button soon found his initial run pushed back to 14th place, and then remained on full wets as others switched to intermediates. The Brawn driver failed to find any more time on the improving track and found himself eliminated in Q2 again. He will start behind rookies Kamui Kobayashi -- making a fine debut for Toyota -- Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso) and Romain Grosjean (Renault).
With the track getting better and better, provisional pole then changed hands countless times through Q3 as all 10 drivers pounded round making the best of the drying surface rather than doing the usual single flying laps.
Twice Barrichello took the top spot and twice he was pushed back down the order, before finally he took the checkered flag with a 1m19.576s, beating Webber by just under a tenth of a second to secure his first pole since 2004.
Sutil grabbed third from Toyota's Jarno Trulli right at the end, with Kimi Raikkonen fifth for Ferrari.
Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi was rapid throughout and took an excellent sixth, but there was disappointment for Nico Rosberg, who had been quickest in both Q1 and Q2 but could not maintain that pace as the track dried. He fell to seventh, with his teammate Kazuki Nakajima ninth between Robert Kubica (BMW) and Fernando Alonso (Renault).
Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1. Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes (B) 1:24.100 1:21.659 1:19.576
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault (B) 1:24.722 1:20.803 1:19.668
3. Sutil Force India-Mercedes (B) 1:24.447 1:20.753 1:19.912
4. Trulli Toyota (B) 1:24.621 1:20.635 1:20.097
5. Raikkonen Ferrari (B) 1:23.047 1:21.378 1:20.168
6. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari (B) 1:24.591 1:20.701 1:20.250
7. Rosberg Williams-Toyota (B) 1:22.828 1:20.368 1:20.326
8. Kubica BMW-Sauber (B) 1:23.072 1:21.147 1:20.631
9. Nakajima Williams-Toyota (B) 1:23.161 1:20.427 1:20.674
10. Alonso Renault (B) 1:24.842 1:21.657 1:21.422
11. Kobayashi Toyota (B) 1:24.335 1:21.960
12. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari (B) 1:24.773 1:22.231
13. Grosjean Renault (B) 1:24.394 1:22.477
14. Button Brawn-Mercedes (B) 1:24.297 1:22.504
15. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes (B) 1:24.645
16. Vettel Red Bull-Renault (B) 1:25.009
17. Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes (B) 1:25.052
18. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes (B) 1:25.192
19. Heidfeld BMW-Sauber (B) 1:25.515
20. Fisichella Ferrari (B) 1:40.703
All Timing Unofficial