Lewis Hamilton claimed his third pole position of the season at the Circuit de Catalunya. The 2008 world champion will share the front row with the surprisingly quick Pastor Maldonado in the Williams.
Home crowd favourite Fernando Alonso will start third in the revised Ferrari, ahead of Romain Grosjean, Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez.
In a qualifying session full of surprises, Hamilton was half-a-second quicker than Maldonado, who had been fast in final practice, setting the quickest time in Q2, and then held provisional pole for a moment.
Hamilton was the only frontrunner to do two runs in Q3, and his initial lap time stood until crowd favourite Fernando Alonso in the much-improved Ferrari went faster, followed by the incredible Maldonado.
But Lewis held the advantage and produced a lap time of one minute, 21.707 seconds to give McLaren their 150th pole position in Formula One. He then stopped on track (possibly due to insufficient fuel) on the slowing-down lap.
Just behind Maldonado, Alonso held third ahead of the Lotus pair of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen, who again proved extremely competitive.
Both Saubers made it into Q3, with Sergio Perez taking sixth while Kamui Kobayashi is in tenth. But a hydraulic problem forced the Japanese driver to stop at turn three on his way back to the pits.
Nico Rosberg was seventh after just one early run in Q3, while both Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher elated to save tyres and not do any flying laps in Q3, so qualified eighth and ninth for Red Bull and Mercedes respectively.
The biggest shock in qualifying was the elimination of both Jenson Button and Mark Webber in Q2.
Button complained of understeer in the McLaren while Webber believed a single run was enough to make it through into the top ten shootout. Sadly, this was not the case for the Red Bull driver. The pair will start the Spanish Grand Prix on row six.
It was also a bad session for Felipe Massa as well, with the Ferrari driver registering his worst grid position so far in this already-disappointing season with P17. The Brazilian lines up behind the Force Indias and Toro Rossos on Sunday’s grid.
With Maldonado setting impressive times at the front, his Williams team-mate Bruno Senna tried too hard in his efforts to keep up – spinning into the gravel at the end of Q1.
While at the back, Vitaly Petrov outqualified Caterham team-mate Heikki Kovalainen for the first time. Charles Pic was quicker than his Marussia team-mate Timo Glock. As for HRT, Narain Karthikeyan hopes the race stewards can grant him permission to race following an apparent mechanical issues.
UPDATE: Pastor Maldonado will start from pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton was excluded from qualifying for not returning to the pits after setting his best lap.
Hamilton’s McLaren was found to not have had enough fuel on board to comply with the rules that demand a car returns to the pits under its own power after qualifying with enough petrol for a one-litre sample to be provided to the FIA. He will start the race from the back of the grid.
Revised grid positions – Circuit de Catalunya:
1. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m22.285s
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m22.302s
3. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m22.424s
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m22.487s
5. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m22.533s
6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m23.005s
7. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault No time
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes No time
9. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari No time
10. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m22.944s
11. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m22.977s
12. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m23.125s
13. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m23.177s
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m23.265s
15. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m23.442s
16. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m23.444s
17. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m24.981s
18. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m25.277s
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m25.507s
20. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m26.582s
21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m27.032s
22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m27.555s
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m31.122s
24. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m21.707s*
107 per cent time: 1m28.363s
*Sent to back of grid for not having enough fuel after Q3