Mark Webber claimed his first pole position since last year's Belgian Grand Prix in qualifying in Spain.
The Australian beat his Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel to the top spot as the duo mounted an intra-team battle nearly a second clear of all their rivals.
Both chose to make just one Q3 run, with Vettel - who had been suffering an apparent KERS issue earlier in qualifying - setting a 1m21.181s before Webber beat it with a 1m20.981s. Under no threat from anyone else, they then sat out the remaining five minutes of the session.
Lewis Hamilton escaped a big lock-up on his best lap to take third for McLaren, which looked set to fill row two until Fernando Alonso produced his best qualifying effort of 2011 so far to take fourth from Jenson Button. Felipe Massa was back in eighth in the second Ferrari, 0.9s off Alonso.
Vitaly Petrov was an impressive sixth for Renault, just ahead of Nico Rosberg, whose Mercedes team-mate Michael Schumacher chose not to go for a time in Q3.
Pastor Maldonado showed his strongest Formula 1 form yet to make it to Q3 for the first time - and only the second time for Williams this year - and was just off Massa's pace in ninth.
The Toro Rossos and Saubers will share rows six and seven, but the most notable result of Q2 was that Heikki Kovalainen got Lotus into the second part of qualifying for only the second time in the team's history. He then went on to beat the Force Indias to 15th place, though the latter team had played it conservatively and opted to only use hard tyres in Q2, saving more softs for the race.
Kovalainen's progress was not just due to Lotus having made a step forward this weekend, for two big names dropped out in Q1. A gearbox problem stranded Rubens Barrichello (Williams) in 19th place while despite Renault's best efforts, Nick Heidfeld's fire-damaged car could not be repaired in time for qualifying.
Jarno Trulli only just made it out in Q1 due to a gearbox issue but still manged to grab 18th, and a hydraulic problem gave Jerome D'Ambrosio some scores before the Virgin driver scraped in with a time 0.2s quicker than the 107 per cent cut-off, placing him behind the Hispanias.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m20.981s 2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m21.181s + 0.200 3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m21.961s + 0.980 4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m21.964s + 0.983 5. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m21.996s + 1.015 6. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m22.471s + 1.490 7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m22.599s + 1.618 8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m22.888s + 1.907 9. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m22.952s + 1.971 10. Michael Schumacher Mercedes Q3 cut-off time: 1m23.026s Gap ** 11. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m23.231s + 1.691 12. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m23.367s + 1.827 13. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m23.694s + 2.154 14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m23.702s + 2.162 15. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m25.403s + 3.863 16. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercede 1m26.126s + 4.586 17. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercede 1m26.571s + 5.031 Q3 cut-off time: 1m25.874s Gap * 18. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m26.521s + 3.561 19. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m26.910s + 3.950 20. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m27.315s + 4.355 21. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m27.809s + 4.849 22. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m27.908s + 4.948 23. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m28.556s + 5.596 24. Nick Heidfeld Renault No time 107% time: 1m28.767s
* Gap to quickest in Q1
** Gap to quickest in Q2