Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull continued his dominance on the Valencia street circuit by winning his third straight pole position for the European Grand Prix.
Vettel, the two-time defending Formula One world champion, prevailed in the hotly contested final round of qualifying (Q3) by turning a lap around the 3.367-mile, 25-turn circuit in 1 minute, 38.086 seconds. The 25-year-old German claimed his 33rd career pole, which placed him in a tie with Jim Clark and Alain Prost for third on F1's all-time pole winners list.
"I had one shot there at the end, which turned out to be a very good lap, and I was very happy," Vettel said. "To be honest, Q1 and Q2 were not really to our liking. We were struggling a little bit to find the balance that we did have early on this weekend in practice. It was a good recovery."
Vettel has started on pole and won the European GP the past two years. He could become the first repeat race winner this season. The 2012 F1 season has been a remarkable one so far, with a record seven different winners in as many grand prix.
After struggling in the three practice sessions, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton rebounded in qualifying by taking the second spot. Hamilton, who won the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago, qualified 0.324 seconds behind Vettel.
"I expected to be a lot further back because we had struggled all weekend with the setup," Hamilton said. "Going from P3 (final practice) to qualifying, we had to make some guesses with what kind of setup we wanted. It seemed to work okay."
Pastor Maldonado, who won last month's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, placed his Williams car third on the starting grid.
"The car was quite quick from yesterday," Maldonado said. "We were struggling a bit with the option tires. We were confused because we didn't feel the same with the prime tires."
Lotus drivers Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen qualified fourth and fifth, respectively, while Nico Rosberg from Mercedes took the sixth spot.
Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi placed seventh, followed by Nico Hulkenberg from Force India and McLaren's Jenson Button. Hulkenberg's teammate, Paul di Resta, completed the top 10.
Ferrari duo Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa failed to advance into Q3. Alonso missed the cut by 0.004 seconds. The Spaniard will start 11th in front of his home crowd.
"Unfortunately, we were not fast enough, but the race is tomorrow, and hopefully we can score some good points, even starting 11th," Alonso said.
Massa will line up 13th on the grid, one spot behind Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, who has won the European GP six times.
Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber, surprisingly did not make it out of Q1. Webber experienced mechanical issues, particularly with the drag reduction system (DRS). The Australian will start 19th.
"The lap time wasn't too bad even without the DRS, but it doesn't help our situation," Webber said. "It's a big hit for us,"
The 57-lap European GP is scheduled to start at 8 a.m. (ET).