Nico Rosberg claimed a maiden Formula 1 pole position for himself and the current version of the Mercedes team with a commanding performance in Chinese Grand Prix qualifying at Shanghai.
The German was a full half a second quicker than second-fastest Lewis Hamilton, as predictions of a spectacular Mercedes qualifying performance came true. Michael Schumacher will make it an all-Mercedes front row having qualified third fastest, for Hamilton's gearbox change penalty will drop his McLaren to seventh.
While one German celebrated a first ever pole, another had a disastrous result, as reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel could only manage 11th on the grid for Red Bull.
Rosberg had led a Mercedes one-two in Q2, and then blitzed his rivals early in Q3 with an unbeatable 1m35.121s. So confident was Rosberg that the time would hold for pole, he got out of his car and walked off to the weighing area while the rest of the top 10 pack tried in vain to improve their times and catch him.
Hamilton managed to get between the Mercedes in the times, even if he cannot do so on the grid. His penalty will also move Kamui Kobayashi up to an amazing third place, as the Japanese driver emphasized Sauber's progress by setting the fourth-quickest time.
On current form, Vettel had always seemed a long shot for a fourth consecutive Shanghai pole, but to fail to make the top 10 on the grid for the first time since Brazil 2009 was a major shock. The double champion, running a different exhaust specification on his Red Bull to Mark Webber, was only 0.3sec slower than his pacesetting teammate in Q2, but that was the difference between first and 11th in the extraordinarily close session. Vettel had been gradually edged down the top 10 and ultimately pushed out by Romain Grosjean's Lotus, and though he was still on his final flying lap at the time, it was not quick enough to get Vettel back inside the cut.
A low-key session for Jenson Button and Webber saw the McLaren and Red Bull back in sixth and seventh in the times, behind Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus.
Malaysia combatants Sergio Perez (Sauber) and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) were together again as they led the way in Q1 after going for soft tires, and qualified in close company once more in eighth and ninth, ahead of the second Lotus of Romain Grosjean. Felipe Massa was closer to Alonso's pace than of late, but will start 12th.
The second half of the grid will line up in neat team formation. The two Williams share row seven ahead of the two Force Indias, and while Jean-Eric Vergne did not get beyond Q1, he will still start alongside Toro Rosso teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
It was business as usual at the back, as Caterham led Marussia and HRT, with everyone now comfortably inside the 107 percent margin.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m35.121s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m35.626s + 0.505
3. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m35.691s + 0.570
4. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m35.784s + 0.663
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m35.898s + 0.777
6. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m36.191s + 1.070
7. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.290s + 1.169
8. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.524s + 1.403
9. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m36.622s + 1.501
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault No time
Q2 cut-off time: 1m35.831s Gap **
11. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m36.031s + 0.331
12. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m36.255s + 0.555
13. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m36.283s + 0.583
14. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m36.289s + 0.589
15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m36.317s + 0.617
16. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m36.745s + 1.045
17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m36.956s + 1.256
Q1 cut-off time: 1m36.933s Gap *
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m37.714s + 1.516
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m38.463s + 2.265
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m38.677s + 2.479
21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m39.282s + 3.084
22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m39.717s + 3.519
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m40.411s + 4.213
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m41.000s + 4.802
107% time: 1m42.931s
* Gap to quickest in Q1
** Gap to quickest in Q2