Qualifying in Spain proved to be a tale of two very different rubber compounds: anyone who found themselves on the wrong type of tyre at the crucial moments was in for a very rude awakening and an early day of it. Those who got it right were about to become the stars of the day and set themselves up for a great start to the Spanish Grand Prix.
Most of the runners initially tried toughing it out on the harder compound when Q1 got underway, with Lewis Hamilton setting the early benchmark of 1:23.989s in the McLaren, a perfectly decent showing especially considering just how much trouble everyone was having finding grip on the Circuit de Catalunya on Saturday.
But it was when Williams' Pastor Maldonado made the first flying lap on the much softer option tyres and went six tenths of a second faster that it was clear just how big the speed differential really was between the two different available tyre compounds. After that, all bets were off: even Lewis Hamilton himself was forced to come back out for a second run before the end to protect himself from the danger of everyone else surging past him in the timesheets and leaving him with egg on his face.
Lotus F1 and Red Bull had seen this coming, and opted out of the first rush onto track with the hard tyres knowing that it would prove futile, and instead waiting to go out for a single run on the soft options later in the session. It proved a canny decision, maximising the number of new tyres available to them for the race while still putting all four cars safely through to Q2.
Most of the other leading contenders then went on to put in sufficiently fast lap times to achieve their safe passage into Q2, with the biggest battle in the closing minutes coming down to Bruno Senna's increasingly desperate effort to match his Williams team mate's earlier time-topping performance and instead left battling to make it into the top 17 in order to progress. Finally the pressure showed, and the car slipped into a spin after getting unbalanced over the kerbing meaning that Senna ended up in the gravel at turn 12 and out of qualifying.
Also out at this stage were the usual suspects of Caterham duo Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen, Marussia pairing Charles Pic and Tim Glock, and HRT drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan. The Indian driver's headaches aren't over yet, either - he failed to make the 107% cut-off time by almost 3s and his lap of 1:31.122s was a considerable way off the rest of the field, forcing him to throw himself onto the mercy of the race stewards to allow him to start the race on Sunday.
With Q1 over, the teams now knew what to expect in Q2 and this time no one was wasting their time with hard compound tyres. It was soft options all the way down, although the initial circulations were almost invariably undertaken on used sets in order to give them a spare set later down the line.
Hamilton immediately carded an impressive lap of 1:22.977s which looked like pole position might be a done deal there and then. Indeed his time held on to the top spot remarkably well, and while Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg soon set times somewhere in the same neighbourhood it was clear that the McLaren wasn't under any immediate threat.
Once again the Lotus F1 drivers Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen bided their time, eventually coming out with six minutes to go and right away going safe by slotting into second and third places respectively behind Hamilton. As the Q2 time ticked away, the speeds started to pick up and suddenly big names like Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso were on the wrong side of the top ten and had to go back out and push still harder.