Sebastian Vettel gave fans a reminder of how things were last season by taking a convincing pole position in Bahrain.
The German, who has struggled in qualifying so far this season, put in a strong lap in the closing stages of today's qualifying session at the Sakhir Circuit.
Lewis Hamilton will start tomorrow's race alongside the double-world champion on the front row of the grid after he out-qualified the second Red Bull of Mark Webber. Webber starts third alongside Jenson Button.
It was a poor session for Mercedes – Nico Rosberg failed to deliver the pace expected of his team, qualifying only in fifth place, and Michael Schumacher was knocked out in Q1 by a surprisingly quick lap from Heikki Kovalainen in the Caterham.
It was a closely fought top-ten shoot-out in Bahrain, with provisional pole position changing frequently throughout the ten-minute climax of qualifying.
Mark Webber was first over the line in Q3 with a time of 1:32.785, but that was beaten almost straightaway by Lewis Hamilton, who proffered a 1:32.671. Jenson Button's first attempt was not good enough to beat Hamilton, but was better than the time of Webber.
Sebastian Vettel's first attempt at pole position did not suggest that he was even a contender for pole position. His first lap was not even good enough to beat his Red Bull team-mate. Meanwhile, Nico Rosberg sat in the garage in the early stages of Q3, with Mercedes choosing to do only one run for pole position.
Rosberg was first to start the second round of attempts at pole, but after all the hype over Mercedes' qualifying performance, his time was slower than what Hamilton, Button and Webber had already managed.
Attention then turned to those behind Rosberg on the track. First Webber went over the line to temporarily top the timesheets, but Vettel then came in with a time of 1:32.422 to take his pole position. Hamilton followed the German over the line to take second place, splitting the two Red Bull drivers.
Button abandoned his second attempt after an error and will start from fourth place, ahead of Rosberg.
Daniel Ricciardo put in a decent lap to get his Toro Rosso up to sixth place on the grid. Romain Grosjean was seventh for Lotus, and Sergio Perez was eighth for Sauber.
Fernando Alonso did not bother to set a time in Q3, and will start from ninth. Paul di Resta qualified in tenth.
Kimi Raikkonen was the big name to drop in Q2. He missed out on Q3 by just over a tenth of a second and will start tomorrow's race in eleventh. Kamui Kobayashi will start alongside the Finn on the sixth row.
Nico Hulkenberg and Felipe Massa qualified thirteenth and fourteenth, whilst their respective team-mates made it through into Q3. Bruno Senna in fifteenth was ahead of Heikki Kovalainen, and Pastor Maldonado, who failed to set a lap time, was seventeenth.
Maldonado did not leave the pits at all, instead opting to save tyres for his battle through the field tomorrow. The Venezuelan will drop five places when the grid penalty he received for having his gear box changed is applied an hour before tomorrow's race. Hamilton was fastest in Q2 with a time of 1:33.209.
Other than the drama of Michael Schumacher being knocked out of the session early, the only other events of note were a few drivers locking tyres and occasionally drifting off track.
The seven-time world champion was sitting in his garage watching the final stages of Q1 when Heikki Kovalainen took advantage of an evolving track surface to put in time that bettered Schumacher's by just over a hundredth of a second, and put the Caterham into Q2.
Schumacher revealed that he had a problem with his DRS system on that flying lap, which could easily be to blame for his qualifying misfortune today. Hamilton was not far ahead of Schumacher, and so without the problem with the Mercedes, it could have been the McLaren driver finding himself behind Kovalainen at the end of Q1.
Behind Schumacher in Q1 was Jean-Eric Vergne, who has now missed out on Q2 in the last three races. The French rookie also missed the red light pointing him to the weighbridge, and is now under investigation. He could well be pushed to the back of the grid for tomorrow's race.
Vitaly Petrov could not join his team-mate in Q2, and qualifies in P20. Charles Pic out-qualified Marussia team-mate Timo Glock in twenty-first, and Pedro de la Rosa also had a good qualifying session, managing to drag his HRT off the back row of the grid. Glock qualified ahead of only Narain Karthikeyan.