Lewis Hamilton claimed the third pole position of his 2012 F1 campaign, but the real surprises at the Circuit de Catalunya came in the wake of the Briton's McLaren-Mercedes.
Hamilton was the first driver to set a time in the ten-minute shoot-out - after both Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher opted to record sector times in case no-one chased a pole time - but was forced to respond as a series of better marks were banged in during the closing moments.
After Nico Rosberg had slotted into second spot behind his former karting team-mate, home hero Fernando Alonso took three-tenths off the target time to great cheers from the faithful dotted around the circuit. Kimi Raikkonen, Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean all appeared on course to improve on the Spaniard's effort, only to come up short, before Pastor Maldonado - perhaps seen as the outsider of the session - finally found enough to take another tenth from the benchmark.
Just as it appeared that F1 may have been on course for its most surprising polesitter since the Venezuelan's predecessor, Nico Hulkenberg, claimed top spot in Brazil two years ago, Hamilton returned, his McLaren fully wound up to blitz the first lap of the weekend under 1min 22secs. Yet to win a race in 2012, the Briton's 1min 21.707secs effort laid down a gauntlet to the rest, although some of his biggest rivals will be starting a lot further back than expected, especially as Vettel aborted his final run to slot into eighth overall, ahead only of Schumacher and the absent Kamui Kobayashi.
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