HOCKENHEIM, Germany, July 21, 2012 (AFP) - Championship leader Fernando Alonso secured his second consecutive pole position on Saturday when he outpaced his rivals in qualifying for Sunday's German Grand Prix.
The two-time world champion drove his Ferrari with supreme judgement and great elan to prove he is the man to catch and beat in this year's title race as he goes in pursuit of his third drivers' title.
The Spaniard clocked an unbeatable one minute and 40.621 seconds during brief dry conditions at the end of the final Q3 shoot-out to trim his own fastest time and leave him out in front.
Alonso was four-tenths of a second faster than nearest rival and defending double champion Sebastian Vettel of Germany and his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber of Australia.
"You know, sometimes it's good to check the circuit conditions, as we did in Q3," said Alonso.
"Going into Turn 6 was not easy for anybody, a lot of aquaplaning, but everything went well for us. We made a good strategy call to do a pit stop in Q3 so we could have fresher tyres in the last minute.
"I think that helped us a lot to improve the lap time. It has been a strange weekend for conditions on the track, but the car was performing well in both conditions so we will see what happens tomorrow (Sunday) in the race."
German local hero and seven-time champion Michael Schumacher, 43, was fourth fastest in front of a big crowd of his dedicated fans, with another German, Nico Huelkenberg, taking fifth place on the grid for the Force India team.
Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado of Williams was sixth ahead of the McLaren pair of Britons Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, whose bright promise in dry conditions in practice on Friday was not converted into grid positions in the rain.
Button's relative success in taking seventh place was the first time this year that he has outpaced Hamilton in qualifying.
Another Briton, Paul Di Resta, was ninth in the second Force India, ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus.
Vettel said: "In these conditions, it was tricky. You can lose the car a bit in the rivers, but I think we had the car today to put on pole.
"We need to look at the strategy Alonso touched on. Maybe that was better, but in these conditions it is a bit of a lottery.
"Fortunately we didn't lose the car and we are on the front row, which should be good. I am starting on the inside as well, so we will see what happens.
"You can't rule out McLaren. They've been quick in qualifying all weekend. In the last part of qualifying, I don't know what went wrong, they were a bit far behind.
"They will be quick and Lotus have been quick in races. It's still extremely close. We are consistent and able to finish in the top three, which is the key, so we try to do out best tomorrow and see what the weather does."
On another rainswept day that made conditions treacherous, Finn Kimi Raikkonen topped the times in the opening period before more intense rain made the track even more dangerous, with plumes of spray and a high risk of aquaplaning.
But making the most of the potential of his revised McLaren car with a new package of improvements, Hamilton showed his absolute prowess by topping the times in scintillating fashion.
In the difficult conditions, it was no surprise to see drivers struggling to improve their times as the rain fell and both Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg, of Ferrari and Mercedes respectively, were among the drivers who failed to make Q3.
As if by magic, the circuit then began to dry rapidly as the weather conditions changed and this condemned the unfortunates from Q2 to sit and watch in Q3 as the drivers traded fastest laps in pursuit of pole.