NUERBURGRING, Germany - Mark Webber will start from pole position at the German Grand Prix after narrowly beating McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel in qualifying on Saturday.
The Australian posted a time of one minute 30.079 seconds around the 3.2-mile Nuerburgring circuit, with Hamilton 0.065 seconds behind in a surprising performance. Vettel, the defending champion and 2011 points leader, finished a further 82 thousands of a second off the pace.
"We got it all together at the end there. It was my complete limit," Webber said. "A good 'Quali' today but you want to lead one lap tomorrow, which is the last lap. I'll be in there pushing very hard."
Hamilton's excellent qualifying run wasn't even expected by McLaren, despite the Briton and teammate Jenson Button having each won a race this season.
"I definitely underestimated how good the car would be ... but it felt fantastic, Hamilton said. "I wasn't expecting the car to feel so great. I don't think anyone in the team would ever have imagined that we'd be this close to the Red Bulls ... splitting them."
Vettel, hoping to win his first race in Germany, will not be starting from the first row for the first time this season. He said the small gap with the front-runners gave him hope that he could still have a successful race.
"I have a much better feeling for the car today," said Vettel, who has won six of nine races this year and finished second in the other three. "If it's dry, we have a very good chance. But it may not be the case. The target is to win, which is not impossible from third."
The latest weather forecast predicts a 60 per cent chance of rain for the start of the 60-lap race on Sunday.
Tonio Luzzi of HRT and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi were penalized for technical infractions and will start from the back of the grid. Luzzi was punished because of an illegal gearbox change, while the fuel in Buemi's car was found to be in breach of F1 standards.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, looking to repeat his win at the British Grand Prix two weeks ago, was fourth and teammate Felipe Massa fifth.
"I am happy with the result and ... this year we have seen that we have always gone better in the race than in qualifying," Alonso said. "Let's see what the weather will do tomorrow. If it turns out to be dry, then we can claim to have a 25 per cent chance of winning and a bit less if it rains."
Ferrari's chances may be hindered by the lifting of a ban that prevented cars from gaining extra grip by blowing air through the rear diffuser when the driver was not stepping on the gas pedal.
The ban was only partially enforced during the Silverstone weekend -- a move seen as benefiting Ferrari at the expense of Red Bull and McLaren.
Now, however, after widespread complaints from the teams, the ban has been scrapped and the technical specifications relating to the "off-throttle blown diffuser" are back to what they were at the start of the season.
In 2009, Webber, who began his F1 career at Minardi in 2002, said finally winning his first F1 race at the Nuerburgring two years ago, after 132 starts, boosted his confidence.
"In the races that follow, your composure is completely different," Webber said. "You do change the way you drive a grand prix from the front because you've done it. It's like the final piece of the jigsaw has been slotted into place."
The two Red Bulls were involved in some controversy at Silverstone, after Webber, who was in third place behind Vettel as Alonso drove to victory, ignored team instructions not to challenge his teammate and avoid any accidents that could endanger their podium finish.
Asked whether he would chase Webber if a comparable situation developed at the German race, Vettel said he would not endanger the team's points for the chance of finishing ahead of his teammate.