Renault power pulled Sebastian Vettel to his second career pole position -- though first with the French-engined Red Bull team -- and placed factory driver Fernando Alonso alongside Saturday in qualifying for Sunday's Formula One Chinese Grand Prix.
With whoops of excitement, a few thank yous and "We made it!" Vettel shaded streakingly fast teammate Mark Webber, who, as third-quickest, starts right behind his effervescent teammate and challenger. Vettel's promotion from junior team Scuderia Toro Rosso (Ferrari-powered) was hastened after the German took pole then won the Italian Grand Prix in pouring rain last year. Despite his ability to spread sunshine -- witness his coining of "observitate" during the post-qualifying news conference -- Vettel is a well-known fan of rain. Rain is expected for Sunday's race, scheduled to go 56 laps.
Alongside Webber is Rubens Barrichello, who in turn shaded Brawn GP teammate Jenson Button. Button starts fifth. Jarno Trulli of Toyota completes the third row. Nico Rosberg of Williams F1 and Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari take the fourth row. Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes and Sebastien Buemi of Scuderia Toro Rosso make up the fifth. Nick Heidfeld of BMW Sauber is on the sixth row with Heikki Kovalainen of McLaren, still waiting to complete a race lap this season. Ferrari's Felipe Massa inherits Kazuki Nakajima of Williams F1 as row mate after Toyota's Timo Glock suffered a five-spot penalty for needing a gearbox change.
Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais and Renault's Nelson Piquet line up on the eighth row ahead of BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, who failed to advance from first qualifying for the first time in his career. Adrian Sutil, whose time put him on the back row with teammate Giancarlo Fisichella, jumps to the ninth row with Kubica as Glock takes a last-row place beside Fisichella.
"It was always last-minute," Vettel said. "I had only one run in Q1, on the hard tire, and one run at the end of Q2, on the soft tire, and one run in Q3. Obviously, as you can see, you don't need more, but it was not easy. We have a problem with the car so we tried to run as little as possible and, yeah, the car was quick. You could see."
Vettel and Webber, whose qualifying marks a full return from the scary collision he took with a four-wheel drive as he bicycled in Tasmania in November, sang each other's praises from a demonstration that made The Great Diffuser Controversy look silly. Red Bull led protests against Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams -- protests finally and officially dismissed Wednesday in Paris after a hearing by an FIA panel -- then turned up outrunning them anyway.
"The work from our team the last few weeks has been incredible," Webber said. "Would have been all Red Bull on the front row but Fernando did a good lap as well.
"We've done a very good job; Q2 for us was strong, and the car's behaving very well."
Webber said recovering from his injuries made for a hard winter but having good people around him, in the form of trainers and therapists, and determination gave a result.
"We're pushing each other hard," Webber said, calling Vettel a youngster. "It's working well."
Alonso, making his first front-row appearance since last season's Spanish Grand Prix, came to qualifying off three practice laps with a new "interim" diffuser.
"It's been a strange weekend for us with a completely new car," he said. "We only completed three laps this morning so we arrived to qualifying with some doubt, a blind qualifying for us because we didn't know how the car would respond. We are extremely happy with the result, for sure. It's a big motivation for the whole team. They've been working flat-out for the past three or four weeks."
The double world champion said the effort of the crew puts responsibility directly on the driver to perform. He said any new part on the car "can really make a difference."
Like Ferrari, Renault jettisoned the optional kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) for this race. Alonso said analysis and safety considerations -- especially after problems in the rain in Malaysia -- have the team wanting a test of the system.
The midweek slagfest in Paris that produced the diffuser decision from the FIA resulted in "interim diffusers" on the McLaren MP4-24s as well and Hamilton looked much quicker. The slagging off hasn't stopped, though. An Italian publication printed rude remarks by Renault team principal Flavio Briatore about Button and Barrichello. Hardy boys both, they shrugged it. Sticks and stones ... yeah, fine; they lead the championship.
BMW Sauber stayed with a split strategy on KERS, one on, one off. This time Heidfeld's F1.09 bears the extra weight. Kubica's height -- he's one of the tallest drivers in F1 -- puts him at a disadvantage for managing the weight KERS adds to the car. His boss, Mario Theissen, has been an outspoken proponent of KERS in F1 as development for road-car technology.
Kubica missed advancing from first qualifying for the first time in his F1 career. The Pole blamed tires and a braking problem at Turn 12.
After looking good in practice Friday, Bourdais failed to advance past first qualifying. Similarly, Fisichella and Sutil in practice looked ready to make their move off the last row of the grid. It didn't happen.
Rosberg led final practice ahead of Trulli. Rosberg was judged to have been on a light fuel load. Hamilton, similarly fueled, was third-quick.
Red Bulls had driveshaft problems. Alonso also had mechanical problems.