Red Bull resumed its domination of qualifying in Valencia as Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber took a front row sweep for the European Grand Prix, despite the team predicting it would struggle at the Spanish street track.
Montreal polesitter Lewis Hamilton had to settle for third for McLaren, alongside home favorite Fernando Alonso's Ferrari.
It was Webber who held provisional pole going into the closing moments of Q3, but a big improvement from Vettel thrust the German onto the top spot for the first time since China, as he produced a lap of 1m37.587s. Although Webber was just 0.001sec down at the final split, that became 0.075sec by the finish line and the Australian had to settle for second.
An error on his last lap saw Hamilton unable to defend his provisional front row slot and he fell to third, just ahead of the two Ferraris, both of which had slightly messy Q3 runs.
Both Renault and Williams got both cars into Q3. Robert Kubica completed the top six, with his rookie team-mate Vitaly Petrov 10th.
In between them, World Champion Jenson Button was only seventh for McLaren, just ahead of the two Williams. A strong run from Nico Hulkenberg saw him equal last year's Valencia winner Rubens Barrichello's time and take eighth by virtue by setting his lap first.
Mercedes was the main victim of the underdogs' Q3 efforts, with the silver cars enduring an even worse qualifying session than in Montreal. Nico Rosberg could only manage 12th after a dramatic brake-locking last lap, and Michael Schumacher looked set to depart in Q1 before his final effort salvaged a Q2 spot – where he was only 15th, among his worst ever Formula 1 starts.
Force India also lost out as the likes of Williams improved. Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi will share row seven. But it was an encouraging session for Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi, who grabbed 11th and came within 0.034s of sneaking into Q3.
Schumacher's last-gasp Q1 escape meant it was Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi who ended up down with the new teams for the second event in a row. His teammate Pedro de la Rosa was just two places ahead, with Jaime Alguersuari's Toro Rosso splitting them.
Lotus remained on top among the tail end group, but this time the gap to the rest of the field was back up to 1.3s. Jarno Trulli overturned teammate Heikki Kovalainen's recent superiority and led the new teams. There was a change of form at Virgin too, where Lucas di Grassi outqualified Timo Glock for the first time.
Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:38.324 1:38.015 1:37.587
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:38.549 1:38.041 1:37.662
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.697 1:38.158 1:37.969
4. Alonso Ferrari 1:38.472 1:38.179 1:38.075
5. Massa Ferrari 1:38.657 1:38.046 1:38.127
6. Kubica Renault 1:38.132 1:38.062 1:38.137
7. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:38.360 1:38.399 1:38.210
8. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:38.843 1:38.523 1:38.428
9. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:38.449 1:38.326 1:38.428
10. Petrov Renault 1:39.004 1:38.552 1:38.523
11. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:39.096 1:38.586
12. Rosberg Mercedes 1:38.752 1:38.627
13. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:39.021 1:38.851
14. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:38.969 1:38.884
15. Schumacher Mercedes 1:38.994 1:39.234
16. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.003 1:39.264
17. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:39.128 1:39.458
18. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.343
19. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:40.658
20. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:40.882
21. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:42.086
22. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:42.140
23. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:42.600
24. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:42.851
All Timing Unofficial