Mark Webber put himself in the frame for a first victory of the 2010 Formula One season by claiming pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Although the Australian had a similar advantage in Malaysia, where he left the door open for team-mate Sebastian Vettel to pass him into turn one, Webber will take extra heart from the fact that the last nine Spanish GPs have been won from top spot on the grid. He will, however, take note of the fact that no polesitter has yet won a race in 2010....
Qualifying was always going to be about Red Bull and the rest and, having seen Vettel set a scorching pace in morning practice, most observers expected the German to do the same when it mattered in the knock-out session. However, it was Webber who set the pace throughout qualifying, topping the first two phases and then seeming to be able to better his team-mate with each run in the third.
Having allowed Robert Kubica, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton a brief taste of P1, Vettel raised the bar considerably by lapping nearly a second faster than the McLarens. Webber followed his team-mate across the line and edged it higher still and, from that point on, no-one else had a look-in. The two Red Bulls then ventured out earlier than expected for their second runs, with Vettel again stealing top spot by taking another tenth off the benchmark. Webber, however, was not to be denied and took the battle into new areas by clocking the fastest lap of the day in 1min 19.995secs.
Behind them, the battle for third was equally hard-fought, but eventually went the way of Lewis Hamilton, who put in a late lap to edge former McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso to the outside of row two. The margin between the Briton and the front row, however, underlines the size of the problem the rest of the field faces on raceday, with Webber nearly a second to the good.
Alonso made light of the added requirement of controlling Ferrari's F-duct with his left hand, and took advantage of the gain it brings, to line up in fourth spot, denying the second McLaren of Jenson Button in the process. Just 0.054secs separated fourth from fifth, while Michael Schumacher, who had occupied third spot throughout Friday, had to make do with sixth.
Button admitted to making a mistake on his bet run, clipping the artificial turf at turn eight and hitting the rev limiter, but he was still comfortably clear of the seven-time champion, who finally go the better of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg after the introduction of a reworked WO1. Rosberg will line up only eighth after also missing out to Kubica, while Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi complete the top ten.
Missing from the shoot-out for the first time this season was Force India, after Adrian Sutil lost out in the traditional game of musical chairs at the end of the second phase of qualifying. The German did his best to escape the drop zone, moving up to tenth with his final flier, but a stellar last-gasp effort from Sauber's Kobayashi pushed him back down again. With team-mate Tonio Liuzzi also missing the cut, Force India recorded its worst qualifying effort in five races, although Sutil at least remains in touch with the top ten.
Liuzzi, having only just avoided dropping out in the first round of qualifying, could not better 17th, although he will move up at least one place when post-qualifying penalties are applied. The Italian again did not seem to have the pace of his team-mate, and could yet find himself under threat from reserve Paul di Resta in coming races.