In one one of the most frantic qualifying sessions of the season, Lewis Hamilton secured his – and McLaren’s – first pole position of the season.
The Englishman secured the top spot, following a determined final run, giving him a two-tenths advantage over Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.
It was Hamilton’s first pole since June of last year, but his best of 1:35.820 was enough to stop Red Bull from claiming the sixteenth top spot of 2011.
Vettel found some luck post-qualifying though. The champion escaped a penalty after it was determined he had not gained an advantage.
Jenson Button led another McLaren / Red Bull fight for the second row, as he beat Mark Webber to 3rd by three-tenths of a second.
Yet whereas Button improved in the last seconds of qualifying, Webber’s pace tailed off badly on his second run, giving the Australian little choice but to abandon his run.
Ferrari assumed the third row, with Felipe Massa out-qualifying Fernando Alonso for the fourth time this year. Like Button and Webber, Massa improved on his last moment dash, while Alonso proved to be slower; however Scuderia machines were over one second shy of Hamilton’s pace.
As per usual, a Mercedes – this time Nico Rosberg – claimed 7th. The German made only one run to garner the fourth row position, nudging Renault’s Vitaly Petrov in the process.
Paul di Resta beat his Force India teammate, Adrian Sutil to 9th, due to setting a sector time; however neither Force India completed a lap, opting instead to save tyres.
A last minute dash from Di Resta was enough to boot Jaime Alguersuari out at the end of Q2. The Spaniard only just lost out to the Scot after going quicker himself moments earlier.
It would leave the Toro Rosso man in 11th, two-tenths and two spots ahead of teammate Sebastien Buemi.
In doing so, the Toro Rosso pair sandwiched Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher in 12th. The veteran set set his quickest run in the middle section of Q2, pitting with a vibration from his tyres with minutes still on the clock.
It left the German vulnerable near the edge of the top ten, before improvements from Sutil, di Resta and Alguersuari dropped Schumacher onto the sixth row.
Kamui Kobayashi led the Sauber pairing in 14th place. Neither of the Swiss cars enjoyed top half pace in the dry running, with Sergio Perez especially weak in 17th.
Bruno Senna managed a single run in his Renault, securing a disappointing 15th, while the Williams of Pastor Maldonado came four-tenths shy to claim 16th.
Rubens Barrichello was the big loser in the first stint of qualifying. The Brazilian abandoned his final run after catching traffic on the far side of the Yeongam circuit; however with Maldonado improving his time at the death, Barrichello dropped to 18th.
Heikki Kovalainen proved to be the quickest of the Lotus runner once again. The Finn’s best of 1:40.522 was a clear six-tenths up on teammate Jarno Trulli, who took 20th.
Timo Glock led the Virgin Racing charge in 21st, with Jerome d’Ambrosio lining up next to him on the eleventh row.
Vitantonio Liuzzi was the only HRT to run, as Daniel Ricciardo’s weekend went from bad to worse – a mechanical issue denying the Australian opportunity to set a timed lap.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m35.820s 2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m36.042s + 0.222 3. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m36.126s + 0.306 4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.468s + 0.648 5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m36.831s + 1.011 6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m36.980s + 1.160 7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m37.754s + 1.934 8. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m38.124s + 2.304 9. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes no time 10. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes no time Q2 cut-off time: 1m38.254s Gap ** 11. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m38.315s + 1.789 12. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m38.354s + 1.828 13. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m38.508s + 1.982 14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.775s + 2.249 15. Bruno Senna Renault 1m38.791s + 2.265 16. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m39.189s + 2.663 17. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m39.443s + 2.917 Q1 cut-off time: 1m39.464s Gap * 18. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m39.538s + 2.013 19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m40.522s + 2.997 20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m41.101s + 3.576 21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m42.091s + 4.566 22. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m43.483s + 5.958 23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m43.758s + 6.233 24. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth no time 107% time: 1m44.351s * Gap to quickest in Q1 ** Gap to quickest in Q2