Addax driver Charles Pic beat Coloni's Luca Filippi to GP2 pole position at Monza, while the two drivers leading the fight for second in the championship could only make the 10th row of the grid.
The front row men took up those positions early in the session, and then remained at the top of the pile as very few drivers improved on
their second sets of tyres.
Fabio Leimer (Rapax) was one of the few drivers to put in a better lap in the second half of the session, and that was enough to earn him third on the grid ahead of Alvaro Parente (Carlin).
DAMS' Romain Grosjean had to settle for fifth after a messy 30 minutes which included a wild off on the exit of the first Lesmo with just over five minutes remaining.
But it was towards the back of the field where the real action was. Both Giedo van der Garde (Addax) and Jules Bianchi (ART) had failed to get a quick lap in before Esteban Gutierrez crashed the other ART car on the exit of the Ascari chicane nine minutes into qualifying.
The second and third placed men in the championship initially stayed out on track, but both pitted due to the prolonged yellow flags that were out while the Mexican's car was recovered. At that stage, Bianchi was 18th and van der Garde 21st.
Both then had their second runs heavily disrupted by traffic. Bianchi had a near miss when Parente tried to pass him into the first chicane, while van der Garde hit traffic in the middle of Ascari on his final flying lap.
That meant the Dutchman could only improve to 19th, which became 20th when Bianchi improved by fractions with his final lap of the session.
Their misfortune hands the initiative to Pic in the battle for second in the standings, as the Frenchman is just five points behind van der Garde thanks to his two points for pole.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Charles Pic Addax 1m32.349s 2. Luca Filippi Coloni 1m32.460s + 0.111s 3. Fabio Leimer Rapax 1m32.485s + 0.136s 4. Alvaro Parente Carlin 1m32.600s + 0.251s 5. Romain Grosjean DAMS 1m32.630s + 0.281s 6. Dani Clos Racing Engineering 1m32.684s + 0.335s 7. Christian Vietoris Racing Engineering 1m32.727s + 0.378s 8. Adam Carroll Super Nova 1m32.761s + 0.412s 9. Sam Bird iSport 1m32.801s + 0.452s 10. Max Chilton Carlin 1m32.811s + 0.462s 11. Jolyon Palmer Arden 1m32.848s + 0.499s 12. Josef Kral Arden 1m32.858s + 0.509s 13. Michael Herck Coloni 1m32.865s + 0.516s 14. Davide Valsecchi AirAsia 1m33.019s + 0.670s 15. Marcus Ericsson iSport 1m33.121s + 0.772s 16. Rodolfo Gonzalez Trident 1m33.129s + 0.780s 17. Brendon Hartley Ocean 1m33.183s + 0.834s 18. Luiz Razia AirAsia 1m33.206s + 0.857s 19. Jules Bianchi ART 1m33.293s + 0.944s 20. Giedo van der Garde Addax 1m33.297s + 0.948s 21. Fairuz Fauzy Super Nova 1m33.452s + 1.103s 22. Johnny Cecotto Ocean 1m33.571s + 1.222s 23. Julian Leal Rapax 1m33.646s + 1.297s 24. Stephane Richelmi Trident 1m34.150s + 1.801s 25. Esteban Gutierrez ART 1m35.228s + 2.879s 26. Pal Varhaug DAMS 1m39.190s + 6.841s