Fe, fi, fo, fun! Suddenly comes the Englishman. Jenson Button, in full knowledge of the importance of pole position to Spanish Grand Prix victory and in full knowledge of the meaning of a victorious foothold in Europe, hauled his Mercedes-powered Brawn GP BGP001 from eighth to best at the latest possible moment Saturday to claim pole for Sunday's race. The pole is Button's third this season. As so many of the day's times did, his 1 minute 20.527 blew to shreds pole and fast-lap times from last year's race.
Button bested first provisional pole holder, teammate Rubens Barrichello, who had used a blistering lap -- a 1:19.954, the day's only timing under 1 minute 20 seconds around the 2.875-mile Circuit de Catalunya -- to top second qualifying, when fuel loads are light. The Englishman also cast aside next provisional pole holder, Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull. On the brink of the season's fifth race, Vettel is the only other winner besides Button. Vettel continued his string of qualifying in the top three.
"It could have gone very, very wrong," Button said, explaining that BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica was ahead of him on track and had to be allowed for, an act that left Button starting his flier with almost two seconds left before the checkered flag ended the session. "Yeah, more luck than judgment in getting out at the end. And, yeah, by far the best lap I've had this weekend."
Button credited Barrichello, tipped by many to be the pole holder for a race that historically rewards pole holder with victory. The past eight winners have held pole.
"All weekend, this guy's been tremendous," Button said, nodding at Barrichello. "All the way through qualifying and I found it very difficult to hang onto him on the low fuel but I got the lap on the high fuel, so, yeah, very happy. It was a bit of a surprise in a way. Yeah, felt pretty good."
Behind those top three, not uncoincidentally the top three drivers in championship standings, followed Felipe Massa of Ferrari, fastest from the morning's final practice, Mark Webber of Red Bull, Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli of Toyota, homegrown hero Fernando Alonso of Renault, Nico Rosberg of Toyota-powered Williams F1, and Kubica.
Massa's is the best Ferrari qualification all season. Renault-powered Red Bull again outqualified the factory team. Toyota arrived in Barcelona without upgrades in the week Toyota Motor Co. announced its first fiscal year of red ink since 1950.
In the second half of the grid are those failing to advance from second quali: No. 2s, Kazuki Nakajima of Williams F1, Nelson Piquet of Renault, now outqualified by his teammate 26-0, and Nick Heidfeld of BMW Sauber. But in 14th spot sits No. 1-badged Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes. The world champion could make no substantial gains up the grid despite a raft of new features for the MP4-24. Only Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi, who made a gravel run and thereby probably lost a chance of reaching Q3, was slower in the session.
Buemi, in the Ferrari-powered STR4, again outqualified teammate Sebastien Bourdais, who lines up right behind him on Row 9. More interestingly, the Swiss rookie grids up next to former world champion Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari, second fastest in morning practice, who, like Massa in Malaysia, posted a time and let it sit only to have it eclipsed as he fetched up with an ice cream. Last year's winner at this race, Raikkonen said he wasn't "keen" on going out for another lap. The Finn earlier told BBC Sport that "question marks" over the sport -- to do with budget caps and championship scoring schemes -- could find him running out his 2010-ending contract and scooting. Raikkonen lines up ahead of fellow Finn Heikki Kovalainen, who said his McLaren MP4-24 was too slow and his Bridgestone tires lacked grip.
Final row holders, again deflating hope buoyed in practice, are Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella of Force India, the third of three teams carrying Mercedes engines.
"We have a very strong car," Vettel said. "And this weekend it seems to work pretty well. So I'm very pleased with that. When I had the first run in Q2, I felt very comfortable in the car. I think the lap time was good. Unfortunately, not good enough to beat Jenson today. I wished to have the pole, but at the last minute he took it away. Second position is great. Front row. Especially, we had a very good recovery from yesterday when we struggled with the balance of the car."
Vettel, 21, credited his crew, who received parts "at the last minute."
Barrichello, whose 37th birthday rolls up in a fortnight for the Monaco weekend, is the oldest driver in the field and the most experienced in F1. He has silenced preseason clamoring that Bruno Senna take Brawn GP's second seat.
"Once again, I was very, very happy with the car in Q2," Barrichello said. "To be honest, it came to me as a surprise. I think it's a great effort from Jenson and he's doing a really good job and he deserves to be there. But it came as a surprise in Q3. I had a good lap. To be honest, I may have been a bit too early on the track and that's the only missed opportunity because the rest was quite well. The lap was good. It was within the limits. I'm very happy. I think we have a good car for the race. I'm still fighting. I think that Jenson is really doing well this minute and I just have to try harder and harder to get him."
If the Brawn duo carry on as if they've only each other to contest, it might be a good summation of the season to date. Button proclaimed updates to the BGP001 "a step forward" with more yields to come.
"Everyone at Brackley has done a fantastic job," Button said. "Both of us in the top three. Over the weekend, we've been trying lots of things and we've found the right direction."
Button warned, though, that Ferrari have pace and the KERS to show it.
Rain remains the prediction for race day. Another prediction, from F1 commercial rights supremo Bernie Ecclestone, holds that a second American team will show up for the 2010 season.