Ferrari's Fernando Alonso splashed to pole position for the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in torrential rain.
The battle for pole came down to the dying minute, with a resurgent Michael Schumacher slotting in behind Vettel for what will become third after third-fastest Webber is takes his five-place penalty.
As with the British Grand Prix, practice was a complete waste of time for finding out how the grid might look.
Michael Schumacher distinguished himself by ripping three wheels and the front wing from the Mercedes AMG in the wet session of FP1, admitting he had been on the radio and fiddling with the steering wheel.
(A message to those who think they can text and drive - if he can't do it, then what hope have the rest of us?)
Valtteri Bottas, in Bruno Senna's car, dropped the Williams into the gravel and into the barriers, the car needing extensive repair work and robbing its regular driver of track time in FP2.
The precipitation was the real problem though, with the track lashed with rain during the session. Jenson Button topped FP1 in welcome return to form and Maldonado topped FP2.
Saturday's FP3 saw the rain hold off and Fernando Alonso setting the pace, with Lewis Hamilton close behind in the updated McLaren.
Webber ran fifth but had to change gearboxes overnight, incurring a five place grid-penalty. Joining him on the list were Romain Grosjean and Nico Rosberg.
The first half of Q1 was largely uneventful, Lewis Hamilton setting a 1m16.221s, by the mid-point.
Romain Grosjean's Lotus looked be spending more time off the track than on, Race Control reminding him to keep to the track or lose his time. Vettel lost a lap time for going wide at turn one.
Kimi Raikkonen put in a 1m15.693 to vault into first with five minutes to go and the top ten barely changed from then on.
It almost fell apart for Red Bull and for Michael Schumacher. Webber briefly occupied 18th before squeezing into the top 17 and Schumacher's last gasp effort got him through to 17th.
The rain fell between the sessions, with Jenson Button first on-track and running on intermediates. The entire field followed suit and in quick order, with the rain expected only to intensify.
Schumacher reversed his fortunes by going to the top of the times with his first lap, before being bettered by less than a tenth by Lewis Hamilton.
The Williams cars both struggled, as did both Saubers and Massa in the second Ferrari. Raikkonen radioed the pits from tenth, complaining of no grip.
Hamilton extended the gap back to Schumacher by closer to seven tenths and he pitted, content to be the benchmark. As ever, Maldonado dragged his Williams into sixth while Raikkonen mstayed tenth, teammate Grosjean 15th fastest.
Rosberg ended with the 17th fastest time (he too has a grid penalty) and Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo finished the session a creditable eleventh.
Perez was handed a penalty after qualifying, the stewards deeming him to have held up both Raikkonen and Alonso in Q2.
Q3 saw the drivers head out on full wets and Nico Hulkenberg flung the car off the road at Parabolica, but emerged unscathed, the track covered in water.
Almost every driver ran wide in one or more corners, the conditions treacherous but not as bad as Silverstone a fortnight ago.
The Force Indias looked strong in the wet, separating Vettel and Alonso up front from Button and Schumacher behind them. Webber was unable to find a clear lap and unwittingly held up a fast-moving Vettel with less than two minutes to go.
Webber then, out of nowhere, nailed his name to the top of the tree with a 1m41.680, to be bettered by Alonso seconds later. Vettel swept through and grabbed second.
After looking terrible in Q1, the Red Bulls took second and third, with Vettel and Webber respectively. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso bettered Vettel's time by almost four tenths, again showing the field why he's leading the championship.
Force India's Nico Hulkenberg held fifth for his home race, followed by Maldonado, Button, Hamilton and di Resta, with Raikkonen tenth.
McLaren's dry pace will surely be a threat in the race, along with Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus. As Fernando Alonso suggested, it's anyone's race.
"Tomorrow is a question mark for everybody because we don't have enough information [for dry running]."
1. Fernando Alonso - 1m40.621s
2. Sebastian Vettel - 1m41.026s + 0.405
3. Mark Webber - 1m41.496s + 1.838 *
4. Michael Schumacher - 1m42.459s + 2.880
5. Nico Hulkenberg - 1m43.501s + 3.329
6. Pastor Maldonado - 1m43.950s + 3.492
7. Jenson Button - 1m44.113s + 3.565
8. Lewis Hamilton - 1m44.186s + 0.875
9. Paul di Resta - 1m44.889s + 4.268
10. Kimi Raikkonen - 1m45.811s + 5.190
11. Daniel Ricciardo
12. Sergio Perez **
13. Kamui Kobayashi
14. Felipe Massa
15. Romain Grosjean ***
16. Bruno Senna
17. Nico Rosberg ****
18. Jean-Eric Vergne
19. Heikki Kovalainen
20. Vitaly Petrov
21. Charles Pic
22. Timo Glock
23. Pedro de la Rosa
24. Narain Karthikeyan
* Mark Webber will take a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change
** Sergio Perez will take a five place grid penalty for impeding Alonso and Raikkonen
*** Romain Grosjean will take a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change
**** Nico Rosberg will take a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change