Nico Rosberg claimed only the second pole position of his Formula One career, edging Sebastian Vettel in Bahrain on Saturday.
Rosberg proved to be the man to beat in Q3 as the Mercedes driver posted a 1:32.543 in the early. Vettel was second quickest, a tenth off the pace, while Fernando Alonso made a mistake on his final flying lap and had to settle for third place. He'll be joined on the second row by team-mate Felipe Massa.
It was warm but overcast at the Sakhir circuit with the ambient temperature at 33C and the track at 41C. Having suffered a gearbox failure - a consequence of suspension damage brought on by a tyre failure - Lewis Hamilton would take a 5-place grid penalty after a gearbox change. Mark Webber had a three-place penalty carried over from China.
Esteban Gutierrez set the first P1 lap at 1:35.027 followed by Sauber team-mate Nico Hulkenberg at 1:34.409, Jean-Eric Vergne a 1:34.314 and then Nico Rosberg reduced the top time by a second to 1:33.364.
The early front-runners started off on the hard tyre, but it was the two under-performing Williams who first opted for the mediums which grabbed them P8 and P9.
Alonso produced a sensational lap to claim P1 with a 1:32.878. Rivals Hamilton, Vettel and Webber left it very late to come out on track and so with four minutes of the session still to run the back end of the grid was: 14.Maldonado, 15.Ricciardo, 16.Gutierrez, 17.Pic, 18.Bianchi, 19.Chilton, 20.Van der Garde, 21.Vettel, 22.Hamilton.
Sebastian Vettel duly delivered a P2. Lewis Hamilton a P5, which left the edge of the dropzone as: 15.Bottas, 16.Gutierrez, 17.Maldonado.
Maldonado jumped in front of Gutierrez for P16 and then Ricciardo made a sensational escape up into P12. This immediately pushed Pastor back into P17 with exactly the same time as his team-mate, Bottas, a 1:34.425 - who was in P16. The fact that Bottas had put in the time first gave him the place.
So out went; 17.Maldonado, 18.Gutierrez, 19.Pic, 20.Bianchi, 21.Van der Garde, 22.Chilton.
Gutierrez had been struggling all weekend, but it was good news at last for the Caterham team whose raft of updates had been fine-tuned by Heikki Kovalainen on Friday. They had beaten the Marussias in qualifying for the first time this year.
A fuel vapour fire in the Marussia garage on Bianchi's car added insult to injury.
The cars who had run mediums at the end of the last session came out at the beginning of Q2 to see how times on their slightly-used set would stand up. These included the two Red Bulls. Mark Webber set the first meaningful time at 1:33.907 which was bettered by Vettel with a 1:33.471.
Paul di Resta showed the Force India's strength by taking P1 with a 1:33.335 which was only just beaten by Fernando Alonso with a 1:33.316. Out on the track it looked like Felipe Massa blocked Nico Hulkenberg's Sauber.
While Lewis Hamilton could only manage P3, team-mate Nico Rosberg responded with a 1:32.867 to take P1.
With four minutes left to run the danger places were: 7.Webber, 8.Raikkonen, 9.Sutil, 10.Button, 11.Perez, 12.Hulkenberg, 13.Ricciardo, 14.Bottas, 15.Vergne, 16 Grosjean (no time)
Grosjean slotted his Lotus E21 into P7 which pushed Button into P11. Although times at the top were close, Button looked a long way from safety. Mark Webber grabbed P2, Daniel Ricciardo a maginificent P9 (pushing Raikkonen to P10 and Sutil to P11).
Sutil improved to P6 as Sebastian Vettel claimed P1 with a 1:32.746. Raikkonen made himself safe in P4. Second last man out on track Jenson Button took P10 while Massa managed P8 demoting Grosjean to P11.
So out went: 11.Grosjean, 12.Perez, 13.Ricciardo, 14.Hulkenberg, 15.Bottas, 16.Vergne
Button was surprisingly upbeat about making Q3, but yet again Grosjean had come up short.
Adrian Sutil toured round on hard tyres before coming back into the pits without setting a lap time. Whatever plan the Force India team were contemplating they would change it, because he came out again on medium tyres. Only four other drivers set a time in the first phase.
Paul DiResta set provisional pole at a tardy 1:33.388, this was rapidly eclipsed by Nico Rosberg who set a blistering 1:32.543. Lewis Hamilton could only manage P2 and then Fernando Alonso took it off him.
After the first running it was thus: 1.Rosberg, 2.Alonso, 3.Hamilton, 4.DiResta, 5.Sutil.
Mark Webber led out the second phase of runners as everyone came back on track. He could only manage P4, Sutil set P5 jumping ahead of team-mate DiResta - though Di Resta would take the place back by going another 0.15 quicker than his first run.
Nico Rosberg cemented his pole time with a 1:32.330 and Sebastian Vettel had to be content with P2. Fernando Alonso made a mistake early in his final lap and aborted the run, but it was Kimi Raikkonen who looked out of place down in P9. Button didn't complete a timed lap leaving him the choice of tyres for tomorrow while Felipe Massa put in a sensational lap on the hard tyres to claim P6. With penalties for Webber and Hamilton that converts to a magnificent net P4!
Paul Di Resta will also enjoy being elevated from his P7 to a net P5 for the start at Sakhir tomorrow. It had been an intriguing qualifying battle with still many more twists and turns to come tomorrow as teams opted for different tyres and strategies for their grid places.
Although Rosberg has pole there are still question marks about the Mercedes' ability to make its rear tyres last. Pre-race favourite Kimi Raikkonen looks a long way back in net P8. But it is the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa who look poised to strike - the drivers have five Bahrain GP wins between them. What are the odds for a Felipe Massa win tomorrow...?
01. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:32.330
02. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:32.584 +0.254
03. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:32.667 +0.337
04. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:32.762 +0.432
05. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:33.078 +0.748
06. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:33.207 +0.877
07. Paul di Resta Force India 1:33.235 +0.905
08. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:33.246 +0.916
09. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:33.327 +0.997
10. Jenson Button McLaren no time
11. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:33.762 +1.016
12. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:33.914 +1.168
13. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:33.974 +1.228
14. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:3.976 +1.230
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:34.105 +1.359
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:34.284 +1.538
17. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:34.425 +1.547
18. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:34.730 +1.852
19. Charles Pic Caterham 1:35.283 +2.405
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:36.178 +3.300
21. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:36.304 +3.426
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1:36.476 +3.598
Qualifying Day For Bahrain GP