Red Bull have come into the British Grand Prix weekend firm favourites after their strong showing in Valencia.
Fernando Alonso had other ideas however and produced a heroic lap through the spray to secure pole position, a fraction of a second ahead of Mark Webber.
The three practice sessions were as useful for divining the form for Saturday's qualifying as reading tea leaves. There were probably plenty of tea leaves to read as many of the drivers only ran a few laps before returning to the warm, dry pits.
Young Daniel Ricciardo took the opportunity in FP1 to take second quickest behind the Lotus of Romain Grosjean, but made no impression in FP2. There were many spinners, the most notable being Bruno Senna who impacted heavily with the wall at Chapel.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in FP2 with Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi behind him and Heikki Kovalainen splashed his way to a surprising seventh.
The third practice session on Saturday morning was headed by Fernando Alonso.
Kimi Raikkonen wasn't even out of the pitlane when his engineers told him he had no KERS to help boost him around the track. Luckily for him, the greasy conditions present during the session are the natural enemy of KERS.
Jenson Button struggled all session and found himself with only one flying lap at the end of session to get himself into Q2 while his teammate wasn't too far ahead in 14th.
A good pair of sectors were spoiled when Timo Glock spun on the main straight, causing a yellow flag in the final corners, obliging him to lift off.
Both Toro Rossos of Vergne and Ricciardo made it through to Q2. Vergne had a strange session, setting fastest sector times but on different laps, unable to string them together on a single lap.
Q2 saw heavy rain falling as the cars took to the track, many of the drivers on full wets. Alonso did a sighting lap on intermediates and returned for wets while Vergne entertained with some lurid powerslides.
Michael Schumacher had a spin but managed to rejoin by selecting reverse and motoring away, his knack of missing or skating over gravel traps staying with him over the next few laps.
He told the press conference after qualifying that he had gone out with the wrong visor and couldn't see anything.
Fernando Alsono had a huge spin as he entered Hangar straight, but kept it away from the walls. Not long after, he was on the radio asking for a red flag. He got it with 6m19s to go, but not before Massa had a huge spin too.
The track was treacherous and even with the full wet tyres each clearing 60 litres of water per second, it just wasn't enough to safely negotiate the circuit.
By the time the red flag came out, Perez was running first, with Hamilton behind him. Webber was seventh and Vettel tenth, Alonso and Massa languishing in 15th and 16th.
There was then a 90 minute delay to wait for the rain and the track to clear.
Grosjean threw away a fifth fastest time by dropping his car in the gravel on the entry to the final complex of corners while Raikkonen's still KERS-free Lotus made it in to Q3.
Despite the yellow flags for Grosjean's spin, di Resta was bumped from the top ten by a charging Alonso. Ricciardo qualified 14th, separated from his teammate in 16th by Bruno Senna.
The third session of qualifying was once again tricky to call. Hamilton came straight back to the pits for intermediates. A few minutes into the session, the Mercedes team told Schumacher that heavy rain was on the way for the final few minutes of the session.
The intermediates were the tyre to be on, with cars on the wets returning to the pits to change as Red Bull, Williams and Ferrari proved their worth. Fernando Alono's 1m52.544 became the time to beat for the dying minutes.
Webber's penultimate lap was epic as he smashed the Spaniard's time by over half a second but Alonso's own final effort put him on pole by the tiniest of margins.
Webber held second, reporting he had been held up by a Force India on his last attempt, while Michael Schumacher took third for Mercedes AMG.
"The guys did a great job and it was nip and tuck with Fernando for pole. I was pretty happy with our qualifying strategy."
2012 British F1 GP Grid
1. Fernando Alonso - Ferrari - 1m51.746s
2. Mark Webber - Red Bull-Renault - 1m51.793s + 0.047
3. Michael Schumacher - Mercedes - 1m52.020s + 0.274
4. Sebastian Vettel - Red Bull-Renault - 1m52.199s + 0.453
5. Felipe Massa - Ferrari - 1m53.065s - + 1.319
6. Kimi Raikkonen - Lotus-Renault - 1m53.290s - + 1.544
7. Pastor Maldonado - Williams-Renault - 1m53.539s - + 1.793
8. Lewis Hamilton - McLaren-Mercedes - 1m53.543s - + 1.797
9. Nico Hulkenberg** - Force India-Mercedes 1m54.382s - + 2.636
10. Romain Grosjean - Lotus-Renault - no time
11. Paul di Resta - Force India-Mercedes
12. Kamui Kobayashi* - Sauber-Ferrari
13. Nico Rosberg - Mercedes
14. Daniel Ricciardo - Toro Rosso-Ferrari
15. Bruno Senna - Williams-Renault
16. Jean-Eric Vergne - Toro Rosso-Ferrari
17. Sergio Perez - Sauber-Ferrari
18. Jenson Button - McLaren-Mercedes
19. Vitaly Petrov - Caterham-Renault
20. Heikki Kovalainen - Caterham-Renault
21. Timo Glock - Marussia-Cosworth
22. Pedro de la Rosa - HRT-Cosworth
23. Narain Karthikeyan - HRT-Cosworth
24. Charles Pic - Marussia-Cosworth***
* Kamui Kobayashi to take five place penalty from previous race
** Nico Hulkenberg to take five place penalty for gearbox change
*** Jean Eric Vergne to take ten place penalty from previous race
*** Charles Pic changed gearbox
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