"It feels great", said Sebastian Vettel when asked how it felt to be back on pole position for the first time in 2012. "It's very good to put the car on pole."
Vettel's top time caught many by surprise, especially coming hard on the heels of an underwhelming performance last weekend in the far cooler conditions in China. But a little desert heat and sand seemed to work wonders for the two-time world champion at Bahrain International Circuit, and put him back where we got all too familiar seeing him in 2011.
It proved to be an unusual qualifying session all round, with many drivers ending up outside of their expected grid positions as a result of the changing conditions on the track, and the dramatically different performances of the two Pirelli tyre compounds on offer.
McLaren saw the upsets coming midway through Q1, when they warned Jenson Button that despite his time being almost two seconds away from the 'drop zone' at that point of the session, things could prove much tighter especially once the track started to clean up some of the dust and dirty that had been deposited overnight and through the morning by high winds and sandstorms in the area.
That prediction came true once the teams down the lower end of the running order switched to the softer option tyres and instantly jumped up the timesheets. Drivers who had thought they were safe suddenly looked under threat as their times were leapfrogged by car after car: several big names had to burn an extra set of tyres in order to make their positions safe, while others - including Button, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso - watched as their times shuffled further and further down the timing screens and closer to the cut-off for getting into Q3.
When the game of musical laptimes ended, it was Michael Schumacher who emerged as the shock odd man out thanks to an excellent last gasp flying lap by Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen. While Schumacher's fastest lap was somewhat scruffy, it turned out not to be entirely down to him as the team subsequently reported an issue with the DRS rear wing system that prevented the former multiple world champion from getting back out on track again in time to do anything about his impending exit.
Schumacher was joined on the sidelines by Jean-Eric Vergne, Vitaly Petrov, Charles Pic, Pedro de La Rosa, Timo Glock and Narain Karthikeyan, with all of the cars within 107% of the fastest Q1 time set by Sauber's Sergio Perez.
After that shock early exit of a Mercedes, everyone was far more careful not to get caught out in similar fashion in Q2. But again, the track cleaned up a little bit more with every run, and by now the temperatures were starting to decline a little which made overheating less of an issue and again made the times start to tumble as the session went on.
Once again, then, it was all a matter of being out on the right tyres at exactly the right moment - and not messing up the chance when it came. The qualifying times again resembled a slot machine, and everyone stared at the screens wondering where their car and driver would end up when the dust literally settled.