Nico Hulkenberg clinched his maiden Formula 1 pole position - and Williams' first since Nurburgring 2005 - in sensational style in a drying qualifying session at Interlagos.
All the frontrunners had changed to slick tyres for their final runs at the end of Q3 and the German unleashed a string of fastest laps to beat Red Bull Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber to pole position.
The Red Bulls looked in danger of starting at the wrong end of the top 10 right up until the last seconds, with Webber having gone off with two minutes remaining. The Australian leapt up to second with his last effort, only to be pushed down to third by his team-mate.
Lewis Hamilton briefly held the top spot during the final run but was eventually shuffled down to fourth.
Championship leader Fernando Alonso was another to spend a few seconds up top but will find himself at the head of the third row tomorrow. Rubens Barrichello will start alongside him.
Robert Kubica was one of the first drivers to go out on slicks, though he went off and rejoined before getting his best laps in. He ended up seventh, ahead of Michael Schumacher.
Home hero Felipe Massa only just made it into Q3 and will start just ninth, with Vitaly Petrov completing the top 10.
Jenson Button's already faint hopes of remaining in the title fight were close to eliminated when he failed to make it through to Q3. His final lap of the drying Q2 session was good enough for 10th spot, but Massa was just a few seconds behind and bumped him into the drop zone.
Kamui Kobayashi will start 12th, ahead of Nico Rosberg who missed Q3 for the first time since Spa. Jaime Alguersuari will share row seven with Nick Heidfeld once Sebastien Buemi, who qualified 15th, has taken his grid penalty for crashing into Timo Glock in Korea.
Adrian Sutil was the casualty of Q1, joining the six regulars in the elimination zone. He was swapped that spot during the session with Vitantonio Liuzzi, but ended frustrated after his Force India team-mate spun off the road and spoiled his lap when rejoining. To make matters worse for Sutil, he will take a five-place penalty for his collision with Kobayashi in Korea.
Timo Glock carried the flag for Virgin, beating the Lotuses of Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen to 19th spot. Christian Klien out-qualified HRT Bruno Senna, who spun at the end of Q1 and will start his first home grand prix from the back.
Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:20.050 1:19.144 1:14.470
2. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:19.160 1:18.691 1:15.519
3. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:19.025 1:18.516 1:15.637
4. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.931 1:18.921 1:15.747
5. Alonso Ferrari 1:18.987 1:19.010 1:15.989
6. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:19.799 1:18.925 1:16.203
7. Kubica Renault 1:19.249 1:18.877 1:16.552
8. Schumacher Mercedes 1:19.879 1:18.923 1:16.925
9. Massa Ferrari 1:19.778 1:19.200 1:17.101
10. Petrov Renault 1:20.189 1:19.153 1:17.656
11. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.905 1:19.288
12. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:19.741 1:19.385
13. Rosberg Mercedes 1:20.153 1:19.486
14. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:20.158 1:19.581
15. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:20.096 1:19.847
16. Heidfeld Sauber-Ferrari 1:20.174 1:19.899
17. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:20.592 1:20.357
18. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:20.830
19. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:22.130
20. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:22.250
21. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:22.378
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:22.810
23. Klien HRT-Cosworth 1:23.083
24. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:23.796
All Timing Unofficial