It wasn't tidy, but Sebastian Vettel's first flying lap in the final phase of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix was enough to secure the young German a second successive pole position to open the 2010 Formula One campaign.
With Red Bull Racing having already hinted at having the upper hand in terms of pace - with Vettel topping both previous phases of the session and Mark Webber the final practice session earlier in the day - there appeared little that could stop the team from securing top spot, but Vettel appeared on the ragged edge towards the end of his lap as he attempted to beat Webber's Q3 marker.
Despite putting wheels over the kerbs at the last couple of corners, however, the German managed to duck eight-hundredths under his team-mate's time, clocking a weekend-best 1min 23.919secs as he did so. Webber's 1min 24.035secs effort had already rewritten the benchmark, but the Australian was powerless to do anything about the new target, and failed to improve on his second run. Vettel also missed going faster, but already had pole in his pocket, with the markedly slower Mercedes duo the only ones on track in his wake.
Webber, having stolen German GP pole on Vettel's patch in 2009, got a taste of his own medicine by being restricted to second spot, but will line up ahead of Bahrain race winner Fernando Alonso on a grid that does not feature McLaren's Lewis Hamilton until it reaches double figures. The local favourite had a similar margin back to the best of the Ferraris as separated him from a cherished home pole, and appeared frustrated not to have gone faster.
Alonso will share row two with Jenson Button after the world champion carried the flag for McLaren and improved by a place on his second run, pipping Felipe Massa in the process. Button admitted later that he had got all he could from a car that was simply not able to compete with either Red Bull or Ferrari - at least one in Alonso's hands - after posting a best lap some seven-tenths off the pole time. Alonso had taken his turn at the head of the times in each of the three phases of qualifying but, having been usurped by Webber and then relegated further by Vettel, had nothing more to offer, twice improving on his third-placed time without moving up the order.
Massa, meanwhile, improved on earlier sessions, but still trailed by a bigger margin that he would have liked. The Brazilian was nearly a full second off Vettel's pole pace, having complained about the lack of temperature in his tyres. Unable to match even Button's best, he will line up alongside Nico Rosberg on Sunday, the young German again winning the Mercedes battle by edging team-mate Michael Schumacher by the smallest of margins.
Rubens Barrichello did well to put the leading Williams into eighth, having previously denied the likes of Hamilton and Force India's Tonio Liuzzi a place in the top ten shoot-out, and will line up ahead of Bahrain top ten qualifiers Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil, who battled over ninth place once the German made a belated appearance in the final session.
Hamilton's eventful Australian Grand Prix weekend continued in the second phase of knock-out qualifying, meanwhile, after the Briton failed to lap fast enough to make the top ten shoot-out.
The 2008 world champion found himself playing catch-up after aborting an early flying lap due to traffic and, despite hauling himself into the top ten next time he ventured out, was on ageing tyres when he needed to respond to improvements around him. His fate was sealed when his fuel load prevented a final effort, although he would have done well to improve on eleventh on what would have been a fourth flying lap. He will now get to choose his tyres for the start of Sunday's 58-lap race, where those immediately ahead of him will forced to line up on the rubber with which they set their best times.