Sebastian Vettel ended Brawn GP's run of pole positions as the Red Bull driver came out late in Q3 to grab the coveted grid slot for the Chinese GP.
Vettel, who had drive-shaft problems that curbed his running during the weekend's final practice session, put it all behind him as he proved that the Red Bull is the best of the non-diffuser cars, claiming pole position with a 1:36.184.
Fernando Alonso, who is using Renault's interim 'double-decker' diffuser in Shanghai, was second quickest, 0.192s behind Vettel while Mark Webber ensured that Red Bull's improvement continued as he claimed third place.
The Brawn GP cars of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button will line up behind Webber on the grid .
The sun was shining bright on The Shang circuit as qualifying started, with Lewis Hamilton having featured prominently in the morning practice and once again Nico Rosberg running fastest. The air temperature was at 24C and the track surface way up at 38C when Giancarlo Fischella's Force India rolled out of pitlane to start Q1.
The session as a whole was characterised by the faster cars running two quick laps to get a time on the harder 'Prime' tyre and the slower, more pessimistic teams strapping on the Super Soft tyres straight away.
Fisichella set the initial pole but Sebastien Buemi in the Toro Rosso set the first meaningful time of 1:38.394, Nico Rosberg reduced this to 1:37.646 on his first run and then edged it down to 1:37.518 on the second lap. It seemed like everyone would take the P1 slot as continually the names changed on top
Massa 1:36.780 (on Super Softs)
Hamilton 1: 35.381 (on Super Softs).
Only three of the cars were running with KERS, those of the two McLarens and Nick Heidfeld's BMW.
Rubens Barrichello looked to be a match for Jenson Button for the first time this year and took over P1 with a 1:36.374 as the abrasive Chinese circuit continued to rubber in. Meanwhile, on his way back to the pits, Mark Webber was fortunate to run into and escape out of Hamilton Corner, the 2007 pitlane gravel trap that lost Lewis Hamilton the 2007 World Championship.
Going into the final three minutes times were very close and the danger positions were: 12.Webber, 13.Buemi, 14.Alonso, 15.Kubica, 16.Trulli, 17.Heidfeld, 18.Glock, 19.Sutil, 20.Fisichella.
The cars flooded out onto the track for their final runs, Massa jumped to P2, Glock went P3, Mark Webber took P1 with a 1:35.751, the Super Soft tyres giving him over a second on the original tyre. Trulli tucked safely into P4, Alonso took P8, Jenson Button (who had slid to 11th by now) reinstated himself in P1 with a 1:35.553 and Rubens slotted in behind him in P2.
Sebastien Buemi grabbed an impressive P6 and Lewis, taking no chances, elevated himself to P4.
Robert Kubica could only manage 16th on his final run in the BMW and it would get worse. Bourdais edged past him into P15 and then Nick Heidfeld made the Frenchman start thinking of suitable excuses as he took P12 and eliminated the second Toro Rosso. So out went:
The big casualty was Robert Kubica, who had opted not to take on the extra weight of the BMW KERS device. Piquet added to his unenviable qualifying record against his Renault team-mate. It's now 21-0 to Alonso. Bourdais hastened the chance of an early season exit by posting 16th at a track he knew while his rookie team-mate got his Toro-Rosso up to 8th.
With qualifying getting ever more frantic, it would be useful to have an on-screen graphic showing who has used what tyres in the opening session. Because for the remaining two sessions it was a question of who had saved up the hugely advantageous Super Soft tyres.
Kazuki Nakajima set the P1 time of the session at 1:36.193 which Williams team-mate Nico Rosberg knocked down to 1:35.809. Barrichello reduced it to 1:35.784 and then Mark Webber showed the real pace of the Red Bulls with a 1:35.632. His Red Bull team-mate Sebastien Vettel opted to leave it to the very last minute to attempt a single banzai lap.
Behind the Red Bull, Lewis Hamilton was able to set a very creditable P2 time, setting the fastest first and last sector times with the aid of his KERS system. Despite sitting in P2 going into the last three minutes, he still felt the need to go out again.
So into the final three minutes and the danger places were: 7.Heidfeld, 8.Button, 9.Kovalainen, 10.Massa, 11.Trulli, 12.Glock, 13.Nakajima, 14.Buemi, 15.Vettel (not run yet). The difference between P1 and Timo Glock in P12 was an incredible 0.4 of a second!
Nobody was resting on their laurels and everyone took to the track. Across the line they streamed, Button into P1 with a 1:35.556, Buemi into P8, Mark Webber into P1 with an incredible 1:35.173 (that's 0.4 quicker than the Brawn on the same fuel load), Trulli into P3, Alonso into P7 and Vettel a tremendous last minute P1 time of 1:35.130.
Raikkonen got his Ferrari into Q3, as did Buemi ending up in P10 when the dust settled, but neither Glock or Massa could improve their placing. So out went:
Massa will have been unhappy not to beat his team-mate, and it was notable that two of the Toyota-powered diffuser cars were down in 14th and 15th. Timo Glock, having had a gearbox change after practice would take a further five-place grid penalty.
Unhappiest man of all was Heikki Kovalainen. His first run was ruined by a locked brake that badly flatspotted his front left tyre and on the second he was clearly blocked by a Red Bull that failed to move out of the way going into the corner at the end of the back straight. The Finn lifted his hand off the steering wheel in exasperation.
Kovalainen was hit with a penalty at the French GP for exactly that offence and it will be remarkable if whichever Red Bull is not demoted down the grid (though McLaren may choose to keep a low profile and not protest it).
Into the final session and Fernando Alonso started things off with a pole time of 1:37.586, Mark Webber reduced this to a 1:37.188 with Jenson Button only able to slot into P2.
Rubens Barrichello showed that he had his Brawn dialled into The Shang circuit a little better and took P1 with a 1:37.146. Nico Rosberg could manage only P4 on his first run and the Mclaren of Lewis Hamilton, now groaning with fuel, was only P7. It would have been P8 had Sebastien Vettel gone out before him. But like Q2, the German was saving himself up for one banzai run.
So after one run it was: Barrichello, Webber, Button, Alonso, Trulli. Hamilton had only one set of Super Softs and settled for his time, safe in the knowledge that he was at least in the Q3 Club for this grand prix.
Into the final runs and Mark Webber took pole with 1:36.466, Jenson Button was not going to make it three in a row and came up short with a 1:36.532. Sebastien Vettel put in the same kind of stellar lap that got him pole at Monza last year and took P1 with a 1:36.184 making it an all-Red Bull front row.
Rubens Barrichello looked like he might split them up but fell short in P3, and then came perhaps the most remarkable lap of all, Alonso put his Renault on the front row with a 1:36.381.
The Renault team had laboured till 5am in the morning to fit the new parts flown in on Flavio Briatore's private jet and Alonso had produced a miracle result. Just how miraculous we will find out when the car weights are revealed later on Saturday.
With the 15 cars separated in Q2 by just 0.5 of a second, the fuel level in each car is even more instrumental in determining grid slot. Alonso was only eighth quickest with no fuel in the cars, yet the Red Bulls had been faster than the Brawns with or without fuel.
Maybe that's why their grins were so wide. What they need now to convert pole to a debut win is reliability. But it could still be any one of six drivers standing on the top step of the podium on Sunday.
1 S. Vettel Red Bull 1:36.184
2 F. Alonso Renault 1:36.381
3 M. Webber Red Bull 1:36.466
4 R. Barrichello Brawn GP 1:36.493
5 J. Button Brawn GP 1:36.532
6 J. Trulli Toyota 1:36.835
7 N. Rosberg Williams 1:37.397
8 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:38.089
9 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:38.595
10 S. Buemi Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:39.321
11 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:35.975
12 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:36.032
13 F. Massa Ferrari 1:36.033
14 T. Glock Toyota 1:36.066
15 K. Nakajima Williams 1:36.193
16 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:36.906
17 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:36.908
18 R. Kubica BMW 1:36.966
19 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:36.669
20 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:37.672
Source : Planet F1