Lewis Hamilton followed up his Hungarian Grand Prix triumph by scorching to pole position for the European Grand Prix on a baking day in Valencia – but the reigning F1 World Champion's glory was only secured by a late error from team-mate Heikki Kovalainen that arguably cost the Finn the top spot on the starting grid.
Still riding the crest of a wave from his Budapest glory – his first podium of the season, let alone first victory – Hamilton has been quick all weekend around the challenging Valencia Street Circuit, and along with Kovalainen succeeded in achieving McLaren-Mercedes' first front row lock-out in the top flight since Hungary last year.
There were the odd mistakes along the way – in both Q1 and Q3 – but that aside the Stevenage-born ace was in peerless form, and pipped Kovalainen by a scant three hundredths of a second at the close as the Suomussalmi native twitched his way to the line through the last sector and compromised his entry into the final turn.
The only man capable of holding a candle to the two Silver Arrows was Rubens Barrichello, as the hotter temperatures under the Spanish sun saw Brawn GP, in the words of team principal Ross Brawn, 'back to dealing with a normal car again' – but world championship leader Jenson Button was only fifth, crucially behind Red Bull Racing title rival Sebastian Vettel, another driver to take a brief excursion into the scenery along the way.
Mark Webber in the sister RBR confirmed fears that the energy drinks-backed outfit is on the back foot this weekend by lapping half a second adrift of Vettel in ninth – the Australian's second-worst qualifying performance of the season to-date, compounded by a near-miss with the wall during Q2. Ahead of him will be Kimi Raikkonen in the lead Ferrari, Williams' Nico Rosberg and home hero Fernando Alonso in the Renault, with Robert Kubica fading to tenth in the final reckoning having on occasion threatened to break into the top four.
There was no such disappointment, however, over in the McLaren garage, where the 2009 campaign has come alive with a vengeance in recent weeks. Back at the start of the year, Hamilton had written off all hopes of even winning a single race this season. He now stands on the brink of triumphing twice in quick succession.
Both McLarens were similarly quick in Q2, with Hamilton and Kovalainen winding up second and third-fastest respectively, but both men were pipped in the final moments by Barrichello, with the remainder of the Q3 graduates composed of Vettel, Rosberg, Button, Webber, Alonso, Kubica and Raikkonen. The latter, indeed, made it through by a scant four hundredths of a second, in so doing demoting Nick Heidfeld into the Q2 abyss, though eleventh nonetheless equalled the BMW star's best qualifying showing of 2009 to-date.
Joining the German in the drop were countryman Adrian Sutil – disappointed with twelfth in the leading Force India, after proving rapid indeed throughout practice and Q1 and with the Silverstone-based squad reckoning to have gained a full seven tenths of a second since the British Grand Prix two months ago – Timo Glock in the Toyota, Renault debutant Romain Grosjean and Scuderia Toro Rosso ace Sébastien Buemi. Grosjean, for his part, impressed on his maiden appearance at the highest level, lapping within four tenths of double F1 World Champion team-mate Alonso, who only narrowly made the cut himself.
The five Q1 casualties, finally, were composed of Giancarlo Fisichella – spoiling Force India's day after both VJM02s had shown well up the order for much of the session – Williams' Kazuki Nakajima, who rolled to a halt with three minutes to go, Jarno Trulli on a poor day for Toyota, Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Jaime Alguersuari and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Luca Badoer.