Red Bull’s Mark Webber ended team-mate Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 pole position monopoly with a stunning lap in qualifying.
The Australian – who has been comprehensively outperformed by the young German so far this season – recorded a fastest lap of 1.20.981, two-tenths faster than Vettel.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were split by Fernando Alonso who wound up fourth and described his last-minute lap as “perfect”.
Vitaly Petrov provided Renault with a welcome boost with sixth spot, following team-mate Nick Heidfeld’s engine fire in practice that had ruled him out of qualifying.
Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher will line up seventh and tenth respectively – the latter decided to preserve tyres for the race rather than participate in Q3.
Felipe Massa and Williams’ Pastor Maldonado – who made Q3 for the first time – were eighth and ninth.
But it was Webber who stole the headlines by claiming his seventh pole position of his career. He will be confident of a seventh F1 victory having won in Barcelona 12 months ago and in the knowledge that every pole sitter since 2001 has won the Spanish GP.
“We thought he had an advantage and that we would probably battle for pole, not to underestimate the other guys. I was obviously praying my number went to number one on the gantry when I crossed the line and it did. Today was my day,” the 34 year-old said.
But Webber will know Vettel will provide stiff competition having won three of the first four races. The German had qualified on pole in the previous five grand prix weekends.
The world champion admitted that he was hampered by a KERS fault in qualifying. “It’s not right to say Mark is on pole because I didn’t have KERS,” he said. “Mark did a better job today.
“I’m not concerned, we are working hard on the KERS, and I think we will be on top of it in the race.”
But arguably the driver of the day was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who stunned most of the F1 world to take fourth to the delight of his home fans and to celebrate his new Ferrari contract in style.
The Spaniard said: “I did a perfect lap. I reckon that if I tried to repeat it 20 times I could not do better. When you do a lap like that it’s hard to put into words what one feels: always being on the limit in every corner is a special feeling.”
Further down the grid there was much celebration at Lotus as Heikki Kovalainen made it through to the second part of qualifying for the first time this season.
“P15 that’s what I’m talking about,” Lotus team owner Tony Fernandes tweeted after the session. “One second upgrade as I always said will take time to fully get there. But we are making good steps.”
With tomorrow’s race looking to be another dry one, the race may well boil down to who is able to best preserve the quicker soft tyres which are on average two seconds per lap faster.