Phew!  A proper battle for pole position – yes Vettel grabbed pole position but it was far from a walk in (albert) park as it was two weeks ago, with both McLarens taking the fight to Red Bull and only missing out by a single tenth of a second.

Still the fastest car, but only just...

It’s not just about pole position though, here’s the qualifying session as it happened, round by round.

Qualifying Round 1

Both Hispania drivers will start the race after their best times were only 106% of the best Q1 time, so that’s 24 cars to start the race on Sunday, good news for the struggling Spanish outfit.

Mark Webber worried a few folk, he spent the first round lounging around, ending up 15th – likely that Red Bull are sand-bagging, but quite why, we don’t know.

Williams won’t be happy though, despite all the promise of their new car, Maldonado took the final knock-out position in the first round and Barrichello was only a tiny bit ahead, finishing 17th and just scraping through to round 2.

POSDRIVERTEAMBESTDIFF% DIFF (to best in Q1)
18Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1'38.2761.532101.6%
19H.KovalainenLotus1'38.6451.901102.0%
20Jarno TrulliLotus1'38.7912.047102.1%
21Timo GlockVirgin1'40.6483.904104.0%
22J.D'AmbrosioVirgin1'41.0014.257104.4%
23Vitantonio LiuzziHRT1'41.5494.805105.0%
24N.KarthikeyanHRT1'42.5745.830106.0%

Qualifying Round 2

Disaster for Michael Schumacher, who finished the session in 11th, just shy of the final round of qualifying.  The Mercedes GP may not be the fastest car, but Rosberg was a full 0.6 seconds quicker than his 7-time champion team mate.  Ouch.

Paul Di Resta did well to out-qualify Adrian Sutil again, Perez had a good result in only his second qualifying session to finish 16th, while team mate Kobayashi got his Sauber into the top 10.

Jenson Button sprung a surprise with a spectacular lap time of 1.35.569, quicker than anything Hamilton or the Red Bulls could do.

POSDRIVERTEAMBESTDIFF% DIFF (to best in Q2)
11M.SchumacherMercedes1'37.0351.466101.5%
12Sebastien BuemiToro Rosso1'37.1601.591101.7%
13J.AlguersuariToro Rosso1'37.3471.778101.9%
14Paul Di RestaForce India1'37.3701.801101.9%
15R.BarrichelloWilliams1'37.4961.927102.0%
16Sergio PerezSauber1'37.5281.959102.0%
17Adrian SutilForce India1'37.5932.024102.1%

Qualifying Round 3 – Pole Position Shoot-out

In short, the Ferrari team were running a damage-limitation approach, with just one run and seemingly no pace to take the fight to Red Bull and McLaren.  These two teams were even closer than anyone expected, but yet again the 2010 champion pulled out a stunning lap to grab pole position for the 17th time so far in his short career.

Nick Heidfeld managed to grab 6th for Renault, which he and the team will be pleased with and will go someway to silencing his critics following Australia.

POSDRIVERTEAMBESTDIFF% DIFF (to Pole)
1Sebastian VettelRed Bull1'34.870--
2Lewis HamiltonMcLaren1'34.9740.104100.1%
3Mark WebberRed Bull1'35.1790.309100.3%
4Jenson ButtonMcLaren1'35.2000.330100.3%
5Fernando AlonsoFerrari1'35.8020.932101.0%
6Nick HeidfeldRenault1'36.1241.254101.3%
7Felipe MassaFerrari1'36.2511.381101.5%
8Vitaly PetrovRenault1'36.3241.454101.5%
9Nico RosbergMercedes1'36.8091.939102.0%
10Kamui KobayashiSauber1'36.8201.950102.1%

Can Webber find a way to take the fight to Vettel on Sunday?  He’s in the same machinery and needs a good result to keep tabs on the 2010 champion.