Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton share the front row of the grid in Valencia as they did last time out in Canada.
But it was a disappointing qualifying session for Ferrari, with neither Fernando Alonso nor Felipe Massa reaching the top ten.
Marussia’s session hit a setback before qualifying had even begun: Timo Glock had been suffering from a stomach complaint all weekend and it ruled him out of competing.
Despite that Q1 still had a surprise in store. Mark Webber, who had been delayed by a technical fault in final practice, had further problems after returning to the track and failed to make the cut for Q2. A DRS glitch accounted for at least part of his troubles.
That gave Jean-Eric Vergne a chance to make it through but that was denied him by Heikki Kovalainen, who got the Caterham into Q2 once again, beating the Toro Rosso by over a tenth of a second.
Lewis Hamilton was fastest to begin with on medium tyres, though his mark was beaten by a succession of midfield drivers using the soft tyres to ensure their progression to the next stage of qualifying.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
|18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’40.203|
|19||Mark Webber||Red Bull-Renault||1’40.395|
|21||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT-Cosworth||1’42.171|
All the drivers bar the Ferraris and Kovalainen began Q2 on the soft tyres. Nico Rosberg led the first runners, following by Kimi Raikkonen and the two McLarens.
Ferrari’s medium tyre runs left their drivers outside the top ten. Fernando Alonso went sixth once he put the soft tyres on.
McLaren sat tight to begin with and finally sent their two drivers out for a second run as Paul di Resta jumped up to second in his Force India. Rosberg and Raikkonen remained in the pits.
All five of them made it in but as the others improved Ferrair found themselves under increased pressure. Grosjean’s last effort put him fastest of all and squeezed Alonso out of the top ten.
But the margin of defeat was incredibly small: Alonso was just four-thousandths of a second slower than tenth-place Kobayashi and 0.218s off Grosjean’s session-topping effort.
Felipe Massa made it both Ferraris out in Q2 and Michael Schumacher joined him, only able to manage 12th.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
|17||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’40.358|
Vettel was not among the drivers who set times at the beginning of Q3. It was Rosberg who set the pace initially, followed by the two McLarens.
Like Vettel, Grosjean elected to do a single lap. His effort put him at the top of the times, despite a moment of oversteer at turn 13.
Maldonado also did a single effort and he beat Grosjean time to put the Williams ahead.
But Vettel’s time blew them both away by three-tenths of a second – more than the gap covering the entire top ten in Q2. Hamilton scraped into second by less than a tenth of a second from Maldonado.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hailed Vettel’s effort as “probably his best lap this year”. Vettel claimed pole position for the third year in a row in Valencia – and goes into tomorrow’s race looking for his third consecutive win.
Top ten in Q3
|1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||1’38.086|
|8||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1’38.752|
|10||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1’38.992|
2012 European Grand Prix
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- European Grand Prix rated best race of 2012 so far
- Top ten pictures from the European Grand Prix
- Vote for your European GP Driver of the Weekend
- Schumacher is oldest driver on podium since 1970
Image ?Ú?« Red Bull/Getty images