Valtteri Bottas made Lewis Hamilton wait for his 100th pole position as he pipped his Mercedes team mate by the slimmest of margins to take pole position for the Portuguese Grand Prix.
The Finn set the pace on soft tyres after the first run, pipping Hamilton by 0.007, with Mercedes opting to send both cars out on the mediums, which they seemed to be quicker on, for the second runs.
However, the wind had picked up for the second runs, and both failed to improve, meaning Bottas will be third different pole sitter in as many races this season, as Mercedes locked out their 71st front row with ease.
Max Verstappen, who won from the third on the grid last time out, ended up third quickest – having been forced onto the back foot when his best lap was deleted for track limits infringements.
His second run was only good enough for third, around 0.4s off the pace, with his Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez running shotgun in fourth.
Carlos Sainz was best of the rest in fifth, the Ferrari driver needing softs to get through to Q3 after a mistake on his medium run in Q2 but getting it together when it mattered, edging Esteban Ocon’s Alpine by just 0.003s.
Lando Norris failed to replicate his impressive pace in the first two segments of qualifying, when he troubled the top three, ending up seventh for the third straight race – but that was well clear of McLaren team mate Daniel Ricciardo who made a surprise exit in Q1.
Charles Leclerc finished three tenths adrift of team mate Sainz in eighth, ahead of Pierre Gasly, as Sebastian Vettel ended a 15-race streak of failing to reach Q3 by closing out the top 10.
Hamilton put himself under a little bit of pressure when he ran wide at Turn 1 at a gusty Portimao and as he exceeded track limits, the stewards deleted his timesheet-topping time.
But the championship leader regrouped to clock another lap on the same set of softs which was comfortably good enough to see him through, with team mate Bottas going quickest of all.
His Red Bull rival Perez lost the rear end at Turn 4, which pitched him into the gravel, but he recovered to the pits content in the knowledge his earlier time would be good enough to make Q2.
As the session went on, the track got faster and faster, with Sebastian Vettel leaping up from 15th – on the bubble – to a brilliant fourth, that ultimately become eighth.
But his Aston Martin team mate Lance Stroll didn’t have so much luck, the Canadian – who was given the sole new upgrade package this weekend – getting knocked out in 17th.
That wasn’t the biggest shock, though, with Daniel Ricciardo missing the cut in 16th, ending the day over a second slower than McLaren team mate Lando Norris, who ended up second quickest, for his first Q1 elimination since the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix.
Esteban Ocon improved late on to progress, with George Russell just scraping through in P15, as Nicholas Latifi, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were the last three to exit in Q1.
Knocked out: Ricciardo, Stroll, Latifi, Schumacher, Mazepin
Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Russell opted to head out on the mediums for Q2, which appears to be the best tyre to start the race on, with everyone else on the softs.
Hamilton didn’t make the same mistake twice, this time doing a build lap followed by a mistake-free push lap that was mighty, dipping into the 1m17s to comfortably set a pace that would not be beaten.
After the first runs, Russell, Tsunoda, Sainz, Giovinazzi and Raikkonen found themselves in the drop zone, with Norris impressing again with third behind the two Mercedes.
Red Bull didn’t seem to get as much performance out of the mediums as their silver rivals, with Verstappen and Perez down in fifth and sixth, but it was enough to make Q3.
Vettel made the top 10 for the first time since last year’s British GP, with the ninth quickest time, with Sainz having to turn to the softs to make it through in seventh, a fraction behind his medium-shod team mate Leclerc.
Russell missed out on Q3 by just 0.05s, and will start 11th, ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, who was nearly a second adrift of team mate Ocon. Yuki Tsunoda and Kimi Raikkonen also failed to make the cut.
Knocked out: Russell, Giovinazzi, Alonso, Tsunoda, Raikkonen
The majority of the field opted to do a preparation lap to get heat into their soft tyres before doing a push lap, but Verstappen was not one of them, the Dutchman opting to crack on.
Unfortunately, he lost the rear end at the top of the hill at Turn 4, which sent him so wide he exceeded track limits and had what would have been a table topping time deleted.
Behind him, Mercedes made no mistake, with Bottas winning the first battle, pipping Hamilton by the smallest of margins. They then switched to medium tyres, a rubber they had been quicker on than the soft this weekend.
Neither managed to improve, thanks in large part because the wind picked up, which made driving on what is a very slippery surface even more challenging, meaning Bottas took his first pole since last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix.
Verstappen and Perez made it two Red Bulls in the top four for the second consecutive race, with Sainz outqualifying Leclerc for the first time in a Ferrari with fifth.
The Portuguese Grand Prix kicks off at 15:00 GMT. Bottas leads the way but can he hold off the two main title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen and convert it into his first win since last year’s Russian Grand Prix?