Fernando Alonso claimed his first-ever German GP pole position and the 22nd of his career, beating Sebastian Vettel in the wet at Hockenheim.
As the rain came down, Alonso headed to the front of the field, posting a 1:40.621 to claim back-to-back pole positions, having taken the coveted grid slot last time out at Silverstone.
Mark Webber was third quickest but will drop down the order due to a gearbox penalty. Nico Rosberg was the biggest casualty in qualifying as the German was caught out by the rain in Q2 and finished down in 17th place.
It was still dry as the cars headed out of the pitlane in Q1 with an ambient temperature of 17C and the track at 25C. However rain was predicted to fall through the session, so everyone was keen to get out early.
Within two minutes all 24 cars were out on track. Nico Rosberg set the first sub-1:18 lap, a 1:17.051, this was reduced to 1:16.737 by Jenson Button, then 1:16.705 by Fernando Alonso and 1:16.383 by Lewis Hamilton who was on a multiple lap run and came round again to reduce that to 1:16.221 with Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi claiming P2 behind him.
The top teams were trying to get through Q1 on medium tyres while saving the softs for Q2 and Q3, but Nico Hulkenberg started the switchover for the mid-grid teams by claiming P2 before Kimi Raikkonen took over P1 with a 1:15.693.
Running into the last four minutes the danger zone looked like: 14.Senna, 15.Webber, 16.Maldonado, 17.Perez, 18.Grosjean, 19.Kovalainen - with all the 'new' teams drivers below.
As these endangered drivers were obliged to fit soft tyres, so both Ferraris were forced into insuring their further progress and fitted softs as well.
Grosjean limped forward to P12, pushing Perez into the exit seat of P18. Perez grabbed P2 and pushed Mark Webber into P18. The Red Bull driver could only manage P15 but he had one more lap to improve that. Michael Schumacher was now in P18 and dismayed the unusually light grandstands by staying P18 on his next lap, making the last one crucial.
While Mark Webber made himself safe in P12, Michael set two sector times that were slower than Jean-Eric Vergne's P17 time, but on the line he scraped through in P17.
So out went: 18.Vergne, 19.Kovalainen, 20.Petrov, 21.Pic, 22.Glock, 23.de la Rosa, 24.Karthikeyan.
Heikki Kovalainen was almost a second clear of Vitaly Petrov while Charles Pic outqualified Timo Glock at his home race, despite limited running in FP3 this morning.
The much expected rain had started to fall and everyone came out on Inters, keen to get a lap in before conditions deteriorated. As Rob Smedley said to his driver Felipe Massa, "it can only get wetter".
Button set the benchmark time of 1:39.010 which was immediately bettered by Pastor Maldonado with a 1:38.949. Vettel edged it down to 1:38.505 with Alonso slotting into P2 behind him.
He may only have escaped Q1 by the narrowest of margins but Michael Schumacher was in fine form in the wet with a 1:38.010 for fastest, nipped past by Lewis Hamilton with a 1:37.927 which then he lowered to a 1:37.365
Felipe Massa having been told it was only going to get wetter made the mistake of pushing too fast too early, went off track and was almost collected by team-mate Fernando Alonso when he rejoined the track. Alonso managed to take avoiding action and get his car braked in time, but it ruined that particular lap (not that it symied his progress much).
The lost lap put Massa back in P17 and then he could only scrape P11 before the rain really started to increase.
Some drivers, such as Nico Rosberg, came in for full wet tyres, but by this time the track was never going to be as fast it had been when the cars could run intermediate tyres.
Thus with four minutes left to run the drop-zone was 11.Ricciardo, 12.Perez, 13.Kobayashi, 14.Massa, 15.Grosjean, 16.Senna, 17.Rosberg.
"There is too much water now," said Alonso over race radio and he was right, the cars were going round almost seven seconds slower, with Kimi Raikkonen also moaning fiercely about Sergio Perez's driving. He was through, Perez was not.
The big losers in all this were Felipe Massa who looked capable of getting close to Alonso's pace in the dry and Nico Rosberg, who had a five-place grid penalty to add to his time going into the session.
Qualifying 3The McLarens were out early with Button leading the way. By this time the temperatures had fallen with an ambient of 16C and the track 19C.
There were rivers of water running across the circuit and many drivers were going off track, including Nico Hulkenberg, who explored parts of the track that only former rally star Kimi Raikkonen would be happy with.
"It is going to be a diffiult thing to survive here and stay on track with the aquaplaning," said Der Regenmeister to his engineers but Schumacher managed a good first lap.
Button set provisional pole with a 1:46.922, followed by Hamilton with a 1:46.604 and then Schumacher with a 1:46.540. This was all put into perspective by a brilliant lap from Fernando Alonso whose first lap was almost two seconds quicker, a 1:44.745. Sebastian Vettel went even quicker with a 1:44.605.
After the first coupleof laps it was: Vettel, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Button, DiResta, Schumacher.
Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton were losing heat from their tyres by running off track and Alonso chose to come in for a new heated set.
Into the final minutes of what was now a drying track. Paul Di Resta put his Force India into P3, Lewis Hamilton grabbed P1 with a 1:44.186, Michael Schumacher shattered that with a 1:42.473, Vettel edged clear of him with a 1:42.342 and then Mark Webber blitzed that time with a 1:41.680.
Alonso wasn't finished, though. He re-set P1 at 1:40.904. Hamilton couldn't improve, Button went past his team-mate for P6. Mark Webber could only manage P2 and Vettel looked like he might beat Alonso's time... until a disastrous final sector that was 0.6 slower than Alonso's meant he had to settle for P2.
Alonso improved to a 1:40.621 to make him the only driver inside the 1:41 second mark and in the dying seconds Pastor Maldonado put his Williams onto the third row of the grid to beat both McLarens.
It had been a gripping qualifying hour with cars running in conditions that weren't expected to be replicated on Sunday. Nobody would have guessed that there would be three German drivers in the top five excluding Nico Rosberg. With Mark Webber's five-place grid penalty for changing a gearbox there will actually be three German drivers on the first two rows. With a sparser-than-usual crowd at Hockenheim that can only help tomorrow's attendance.
01 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:40.621
02 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:41.026 0.405
03 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:41.496 0.875
04 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:42.459 1.838
05 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:43.501 2.880
06 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:43.950 3.329
07 Jenson Button McLaren 1:44.113 3.492
08 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:44.186 3.565
09 Paul di Resta Force India 1:44.889 4.268
10 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:45.811 5.190
11 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:39789
12 Sergio Perez Sauber 1:39.933
13 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:39.985
14 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:40.212
15 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:40.574
16 Bruno Senna Williams 1:40.752
17 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:41.551
18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:16.741
19 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:17.620
20 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1:18.531
21 Charles Pic Marussia 1:19.220
22 Timo Glock Marussia 1:19.291
23 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1:19.912
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1:20.230