Jenson Button took his fourth pole position of the season in a frenetic qualifying session for the Monaco Grand Prix.
The championship leader kept a relatively low profile for most of the hour, then charged to the front with his final Q3 lap, beating surprise front row man Kimi Raikkonen to the top spot by 0.025 seconds.
But there was disaster for last year's winner Lewis Hamilton, who had been tipped as a dark horse contender for pole given McLaren's faith in its Monaco package. The world champion crashed in Q1 and will start 16th.
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) and Nico Rosberg (Williams) both held provisional pole early in Q3, before Raikkonen showed Ferrari's resurgent form by producing a 1m14.927s in the closing seconds.
But even as the Finn completed the lap, Button was going even faster, crossing the line a few seconds later to snatch pole away and further strengthen his championship prospects.
His Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello will start third, with Vettel and Rosberg falling back to fourth and sixth, split by Ferrari's Felipe Massa. The Brazilian was fortunate to escape a spin at the start of Q1 that saw him break his front wing as he swiped the Swimming Pool barriers.
Heikki Kovalainen salvaged some McLaren pride with seventh place, ahead of Mark Webber in the second Red Bull, Renault's Fernando Alonso, and Williams's Kazuki Nakajima, the latter making his first Q3 appearance of the year.
Hamilton spun into the Mirabeau barriers on his fifth lap in Q1, smashing his McLaren's right rear suspension and causing a brief halt to the session. Seventh on the timing screens at the time, he tumbled to 16th on the grid by the end of the segment.
All five Q1 departures were big names. Given the team's weekend-long struggle, it was not a big surprise to see the BMW Saubers sharing row nine, but Toyota's 19th and 20th places were a greater shock. Jarno Trulli blamed Fernando Alonso for blocking him at the final corner, while Timo Glock spun at the Swimming Pool on his last run.
That meant a host of underdogs could celebrate reaching Q2 - in particular Force India, which finally achieved its aim of progressing in qualifying with both cars.
Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil will start 13th and 15th, while Toro Rosso also enjoyed a good session with Sebastien Buemi and Sebastien Bourdais taking 11th and 14th, despite the latter having to rely on a very last minute effort to squeeze through to Q2.
Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1. Button Brawn-Mercedes (B) 1:15.210 1:15.016 1:14.902
2. Raikkonen Ferrari (B) 1:15.746 1:14.514 1:14.927
3. Barrichello Brawn-Mercedes (B) 1:15.425 1:14.829 1:15.077
4. Vettel Red Bull-Renault (B) 1:15.915 1:14.879 1:15.271
5. Massa Ferrari (B) 1:15.340 1:15.001 1:15.437
6. Rosberg Williams-Toyota (B) 1:15.094 1:14.846 1:15.455
7. Kovalainen McLaren-Mercedes (B) 1:15.495 1:14.809 1:15.516
8. Webber Red Bull-Renault (B) 1:15.260 1:14.825 1:15.653
9. Alonso Renault (B) 1:15.898 1:15.200 1:16.009
10. Nakajima Williams-Toyota (B) 1:15.930 1:15.579 1:17.344
11. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari (B) 1:15.834 1:15.833
12. Piquet Renault (B) 1:16.013 1:15.837
13. Fisichella Force India-Mercedes (B) 1:16.063 1:16.146
14. Bourdais Toro Rosso-Ferrari (B) 1:16.120 1:16.281
15. Sutil Force India-Mercedes (B) 1:16.248 1:16.545
16. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes (B) 1:16.264
17. Heidfeld BMW-Sauber (B) 1:16.264
18. Kubica BMW-Sauber (B) 1:16.405
19. Trulli Toyota (B) 1:16.548
20. Glock Toyota (B) 1:16.788
All Timing Unofficial