Red Bull Racing failed to clinch pole position for the first time in 2011, meaning that their bid to beat McLaren's record of 15 poles in a single season will have to wait at least one Grand Prix longer.

Sebastian Vettel did manage to pull an amazing flying lap out of nowhere after the chequered flags came out to split the previously dominant McLaren pairing upfront, breaking up Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button by forcing his way onto the front row alongside Hamilton who clinched pole by 0.232s.

"It was a very exciting qualifying session and Sebastian produced a stunning lap," said team principal Christian Horner afterwards. "Hopefully we can take the fight to the McLarens [in the race.]"

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However Vettel's front row position came under threat after it was revealed that the world champion was under investigation by the FIA race stewards for allegedly cutting the corner in turns 4 and 5 during one of his Q3 slow laps. The matter was put under investigation, and - if upheld - could see Vettel demoted down the grid as a result.

Even before the news broke, Vettel and Red Bull were aware that they were on the back foot this weekend compared with Mclaren.

"McLaren looked very competitive yesterday; I know the conditions were completely different, but you could see they were a fair chunk ahead of everyone else, including us," said Vettel. "They looked extremely quick this morning in the dry also, but I think once again we pushed them very hard in qualifying and got closer than I think they, and we, expected."

Red Bull caught the attention early on with an innovative tyre strategy that saw them out on soft options right from the start of Q1.

"We elected to take a different approach to others with our tyre usage in qualifying, which has saved us three sets of the soft tyre for tomorrow's race, should that come into play," confirmed Horner. "It's going to be a fascinating race with strategy and pit-work."

Mark Webber was locked in a battle for third place with Jenson Button, which finally the Australian had to concede after aborting his final flying lap at the end of qualifying.

"On the last run, I lost the rear a little bit on the exit of turn 1. I tried to get it back through turn 3, but I was down three-tenths of a second; it's a pity as you're not going to get that back in the last sector," he said. "It's a shame that Jenson got me in the end there, as it bumped me onto the left hand side of the grid, but we'll see how we go tomorrow in the race.

"We're closer to the McLarens than we thought and it was a well fought contest between the four of us," he added.