Sebastian Vettel's 2011 qualifying tally now stands at seven poles from eight grands prix, as the world champion took his 22nd Formula 1 career pole in Valencia.
The German leads an all-Red Bull front row ahead of teammate Mark Webber, who was only fifth after the first Q3 runs, but was the only man to improve at the second attempt and duly jumped to second.
Lewis Hamilton completes the top three in the best McLaren, ahead of the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. Montreal winner Jenson Button (McLaren) will start sixth. The Mercedes chose to only make one Q3 run and filled row four, with Nico Rosberg a scant 0.009sec ahead of teammate Michael Schumacher.
Fifth row men Nick Heidfeld (Renault) and Adrian Sutil (Force India) both made the Q3 cut but did not set times - Sutil sitting the session out, and Heidfeld going out briefly at the end before aborting his run.
Sutil's last-minute progress into Q3 came at the expense of Renault's Vitaly Petrov, which was the only real upset of the first two thirds of qualifying. Paul di Resta joined the Russian on row six in the second Force India, ahead of Rubens Barrichello (Williams) and Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber).
The second Williams of Pastor Maldonado caused a brief red flag in Q2 when it ground to a halt in the middle of the track. But he had already done a time good enough to secure 15th on the grid ahead of Sauber's Sergio Perez and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi.
After some fleeting scares for Webber, Kobayashi and Massa (who got himself out of danger by sticking on soft tyres and blasting to the Q1 top spot by a huge margin), it was Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari who was again the upper midfield driver exiting in Q1. He ended up 18th ahead of the Lotus duo – Heikki Kovalainen in front of Jarno Trulli, who spun on his final Q1 run.
Everyone comfortably made the 107 percent qualifying cut, with Tonio Liuzzi's Hispania splitting the Virgins as he edged ahead of Jerome D'Ambrosio.
• Click here for a list of stories from all teams following qualifying.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m36.975
2. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m37.163 + 0.188
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m37.380 + 0.405
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m37.454 + 0.479
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m37.535 + 0.560
6. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m37.645 + 0.670
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.231 + 1.256
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m38.240 + 1.265
9. Nick Heidfeld Renault No time
10. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes No time
Q2 cut-off time: 1m39.034s Gap **
11. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m39.068s + 1.763
12. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m39.422s + 2.117
13. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m39.489s + 2.184
14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m39.525s + 2.220
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m39.645s + 2.340
16. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m39.657s + 2.352
17. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m39.711s + 2.406
Q1 cut-off time: 1m40.131s Gap *
18. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m40.232 + 1.819
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m41.664 + 3.251
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m42.234 + 3.821
21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m42.553 + 4.140
22. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m43.584 + 5.171
23. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m43.735 + 5.322
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m44.363 + 5.950
107% time: 1m45.301s
* Gap to quickest in Q1
** Gap to quickest in Q2