The two Mercedes drivers will start the F1 Grand Prix of Spain from the front row of the grid, after Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton showed unbeatable form in the final part of qualifying in Barcelona.
Despite strong final efforts, neither Sebastian Vettel nor Kimi Raikkonen could elbow their way into the front row, while Ferrari might be feeling a little deflated after their strong pace earlier in the weekend proved only good enough to get Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa an all-Maranello third row for the start of Sunday afternoon's race, with times just one thousandth of a second apart.
It had proved to be a slow start to Q1, which saw four minutes elapse before Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso became the first car the emerge out on the 2.892-mile Circuit de Catalunya, soon joined by his team mate Jean-Eric Vergne and by the Williams and Sauber cars. With the track completely dry and only the gusty winds to worry about, Ricciardo set the first benchmark with a lap of 1:24.100s that was immediately trimmed by a quarter of a second by Nico Hülkenberg and then by the same amount again by Vergne.
Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen was the first of the big names to complete a qualifying lap, instantly bringing the target time down to 1:23.087s on his first serious effort of the afternoon with his team mate Romain Grosjean a tenth further back, but both were imperiously brushed aside by the Ferraris as Fernando Alonso went top with a thumping time of 1:22.264s a couple of tenths faster than Felipe Massa.
The Red Bulls, Mercedes and McLarens opted to leave it late and go for just a single stint out on track in the last five minutes of Q1, with Lewis Hamilton immediately punching in a lap of 1:21.728s to take charge of the timing screens ahead of Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel. Mark Webber tucked in behind Alonso into fifth place, while Jenson Button's flying lap was left almost two seconds off Hamilton's time after he complained vehemently of being blocked in the final sector by an errant Williams. That left the Briton in fear of being leap-frogged by the late-improving cars from the back in the final minutes, as exemplified by Hülkenberg who leapt out of danger and into 13th place ahead of both McLarens.
Fortunately for Perez and Button they were saved from major embarrassment by the two Williams of Valterri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado both failing to make the cut-off, consigning them to the back rows of Sunday's grid alongside the Caterham and Marussia drivers. Further back, a final flying effort from Giedo van der Garde made Caterham the best of the 'back row battlers' after he edged Marussia's Jules Bianchi by five hundredths of a second; all cars were very comfortably inside the 107% limit.
The teams wasted only a couple of minutes at the start of Q2 before heading out on track with Sauber's Esteban Gutiérrez the first driver out with a time of 1:22.910s. He had just squeezed in to the second round in 16th place but now running under the cloud of a likely grid penalty from the race stewards after being shown badly holding up a flying Raikkonen towards the end of Q1 when he was ambling his own way back to pit lane.
It was Raikkonen who quickly reset the parameters of the session by lowering the target time to 1:21.676s with Nico Rosberg a tenth behind in second spot; Fernando Alonso then nipped past them both to go in front by just three hundredths of a second. The top five all decided that they could safely save a set of tyres by remaining in the garage for the rest of the session, but everyone else was back out for a last attempt to get through. Sebastian Vettel immediately went top with a lap of 1:21.602s and Webber moved up to a safe fourth place, while Sergio Perez pulled a quite amazing lap out of the gloom pervading McLaren with a time good enough to put him into seventh place by the time the chequered flag came out.
The last man to progress to the final stage of qualifying was Force India's Paul di Resta, leaving his team mate Adrian Sutil eliminated along with both Toro Rossos, both Saubers - and Jenson Button who had only managed a lacklustre 14th place by the finish, meaning that he been thoroughly outshone by his young team mate for the first time.
Kimi Raikkonen continued to be one of the early risers, quickly taking to the track on a brand-new set of medium-compound Pirellis before the traffic became a problem. Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean soon followed him out along with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, and after their flurry of initial laps the whip hand and provisional pole firmly belonged to Rosberg with a time of 1:20.824s four tenths ahead of Alonso, Massa, Grosjean and Raikkonen.
Everyone retired back to their garages after this, with the track briefly completely empty before it fell to Raikkonen to fire up his engine and return to the fray: he kicked off the second and final sequence of runs with three minutes remaining in Q3, everyone soon following suit and streaming out of pit lane.
It was soon clear that no one had enough to usurp Rosberg from the top spot - although the German himself shaved a little off his pole time to raise the bar still further to 1:20.718s in his final run which kept him ahead of his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton who saw off Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen's final efforts of the afternoon. Alonso was pushed back to the third row which he will share with his team mate Felipe Massa, while immediately behind them Romain Grosjean will line up alongside Mark Webber. Sergio Perez and Paul di Resta rounded out the top ten, the only cars to fair to dip under the 82-second mark in the final stage of qualifying.See full qualifying times