Sebastian Vettel left it late, but still managed to break a few hearts by claiming pole position for the 2012 F1 European Grand Prix - a race he has dominated for the past two seasons.
The German completed just a single flying lap, but it proved good enough to trump the field by four-tenths of a second as all the action compressed itself into the final half-minute of the ten allocated for chasing pole. Only four drivers bothered to post a time in the early part of the session, as tyre wear factored into their decisions, leaving Nico Rosberg to sit atop the pile for much of the time.
Romain Grosjean then took the opportunity presented by the lull in proceedings to topple the German with 30 seconds remaining, but that only served as an appetiser, with Pastor Maldonado chasing the Lotus across the line to steal P1. Both Force Indias looked potent, but Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg only slotted into seventh and fourth respectively as the chequered flag fell between their efforts.
Vettel was next on track, and was more than half a second up through the second checkpoint. Although he lost a little of that by the time he reached the start-finish line, his margin was to prove unassailable, with Kimi Raikkonen only able to slot into fourth, which became fifth when Hamilton claimed the other front row spot.
While the Red Bull driver celebrates his 33rd career pole, something that sees him match Alain Prost and Jim Clark, Maldonado and Grosjean occupy row two, ahead of Raikkonen, Rosberg, Kamui Kobayashi, Hulkenberg, Button and di Resta.
World champions Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher meanwhile both failed it through the second phase of qualifying. Such was the close competition in the middle 15-minute session, that Felipe Massa in 13th was only three-tenths off the ultimate pace, with the likes of Button, Hamilton and Vettel all feeling the need to venture out again late in Q2 to ensure that they secured places in the top ten.
Alonso only pulled himself out of the drop zone in the final four minutes, but then found himself pushed back in by improvements from Hulkenberg, Maldonado and Grosjean - the Frenchman saving himself with the fastest time of all. Schumacher found himself on the cusp and toppling over the edge when countryman Hulkenberg ensured two Force Indias in the top ten, with the seven-time champion only able to improve to twelfth on his final run. Alonso and Schumacher were joined on the sidelines by Massa, Bruno Senna, Sergio Perez, Heikki Kovalainen and Daniel Ricciardo, with the Finn claiming another Toro Rosso scalp at the end of the session.
Mark Webber had a frustrating day and after only managing four laps in final practice, due to hydraulic problems, he had more issues in qualifying, with DRS issues hindering his efforts, and contributing to his early exit. He will start 19th in his Red Bull.
Jean-Eric Vergne was again eliminated in Q1, thanks to Kovalainen, and will line up in 18th, with Caterham's Vitaly Petrov 20th. Further back, the HRTs of Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan outpaced the sole Marussia of Charles Pic, the Frenchman's team-mate, Timo Glock, missing the session due to a stomach bug. It is not yet known if Glock will race tomorrow.
To see the full times from qualifying for the F1 2012 European Grand Prix - CLICK HERE