It only took 16 qualifying sessions, however, McLaren have finally beaten Red Bull to pole position thanks to an impressive lap from Lewis Hamilton
Red Bull have dominated Saturday afternoons this entire season, claiming 15 pole positions in 15 race weekends. But all good things come to an end and Hamilton ensured that's what happened in Korea on Saturday.
The McLaren driver clocked a 1:35.820 to take his first pole of the season and the 19th of his career. Sebastian Vettel had to settle for second place, missing out on his 13th pole position of the season by 0.222s.
Jenson Button was third, a further 0.084s off the pace, with Mark Webber in fourth ahead of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.
It had stayed dry for morning free practice and it was still dry as we started qualifying with a pale watery sun and an ambient temperature of 22C with the circuit at 28C.
The two Renaults were on track early and Bruno Senna - who had explored a lot of unusual places on the circuit on Friday - set P1 at 1:39.951, team-mate Vitaly Petrov lowered this to 1:39.406. Lewis Hamilton had clearly learned from his too-late appearance at Suzuka and re-set P1 at 1:38.278 on the first of what would be a three-timed lap run on the soft Prime tyre.
In Korea Pirelli had forecast a lot of tyre wear on the soft Prime and super-soft Option tyre and it looked as though Red Bull were trying to save all their Primes for the race because both Vettel and Webber went out on a set of super-softs for their first run, something usually confined to the new teams. Christian Horner confirmed his drivers were given a target time to achieve so as not to take too much life out of them.
Both Hamilton and Button circulated for a cooling off lap before putting in a faster lap with Hamilton reducing P1 to 1:37.525 and Jenson Button taking back P2 off Fernando Alonso - who was running a new front wing this weekend while Massa kept the old one. The Red Bulls were 5th and 6th after their first runs, behind the two Ferraris.
Running into the last four minutes, Liuzzi, Barrichello, Maldonado and Ricciardo had all failed to set a time. The Williams drivers were leaving it late, but Ricciardo's HRT had developed a water cooling problem and he would not set a time. The danger positions were: 16.Perez, 17.Kovalainen, 18.Trulli, 19.Glock.
Maldonado's first lap placed him only to P16 which pushed Kobayashi to P17 and Perez into the exit seat in P18. The Mexican responded by elevating his Sauber to P10 and Kobayashi jumped forward to P15. So now it was Adrian Sutil in P17 and Maldonado back in P18.
The two Force Indias were out together and while Paul DiResta claimed P7, Adrian Sutil grabbed P9. Now it looked to be a battle of Kobayashi versus the two Williams for who would be the fall guy, with Barrichello in P17 and Maldonado in P18. When Rubens abandoned his final lap and came in it was then down to Maldonado to eliminate his team-mate by jumping to P16.
So out went: 18.Barrichello, 19.Kovalainen, 20.Trulli, 21.Glock, 22.D'Ambrosio, 23.Liuzzi, 24.Ricciardo.
There was no sign of the soft tyres in Q2 as everyone switched to the super-soft. Paul DiResta set the first P1 at 1:38.868 followed by another early Hamilton run, a 1:36.526. Button slotted into P2, and then Mark Webber took P2 and then Sebastian Vettel took P2.
Michael Schmacher had the track to himself in the middle of the session but reported a very bad tyre vibration. With 0.5 seconds to the next quickest car (a Renault) he thought he would have enough to make Q3, but his lap was only good enough for P9.
Going into the last four minutes the danger positions were: 7.Massa, 8.Petrov, 9.Schumacher, 10.Alguersuari, 11.Buemi, 12.Sutil, 13.DiResta, 14.Perez, and with Senna, Kobayashi and Maldonado not having set a time.
Massa felt sufficiently at risk to need another lap and put his Ferrari up into P5, Maldonado could only manage P14, Adrian Sutil took P9 for Force India demoting Michael Schumacher to P10 and when Jaime Alguersuari claimed P10, Michael was out. Paul DiResta then booted Alguersuari out of Q3 by claiming P10.
There was no sign of major improvement from the cars leaving it very late - Buemi stayed P13, Kobayashi could only claim P14, Bruno Senna P15 and Perez stayed at P17. So out went: 11.Alguersuari, 12.Schumacher, 13.Buemi, 14.Kobayashi, 15.Senna, 16.Maldonado, 17.Perez.
It was conspicuously a poor result for Schumacher who had finished fourth here last year, but it was equally as bad a result for Bruno Senna (down in P15 and with his team-mate in P8) going into the tricky phase where Renault are deciding who will be in the car next year.
Yet again Lewis Hamilton wasn't going to leave it late in the session to qualify and while Nico Rosberg set provisional pole at 1:37.754, Lewis Hamilton followed him home with a 1:36.130 - Button took P2 and then Webber took P2 and then Vettel grabbed P2.
So after the first runs it was: Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Button, Alonso, Massa, Rosberg and Petrov - with the two Force Indias staying in the garage. One run was enough for Nico Rosberg and he was off down the long pitlane to be weighed by the FIA's Jo Bauer.
It was going to be very tight in the run for pole with four cars genuinely in with a shout. Hamilton was out first and looking like his old self behind the wheel, moved the best time down to a 1:35.870, Button couldn't match it but grabbed P2. Mark Webber made a mistake at the very first corner and abandoned his lap, likewise Fernando Alonso. Felipe Massa then went past his team-mate to take P5, while Vettel came up 0.2 shy of Hamilton, but yet again, just in front of Button.
It was a curiously contained Lewis Hamilton who arrived back in the pits, with no celebration on the radio, no high-fives in the pitlane. The McLaren driver strode to the weighing-in area without removing his helmet and disappeared backstage beyond the reach of the cameras as soon as he could.
The whole weekend has the feeling of a 'hangover' race with no pitlane buzz, no support races - almost like a contractual obligation for F1 to appear and go through the motions. However McLaren had interrupted Red Bull's sequence of 15 pole positions - something they should have done the previous weekend, when there was a lot more passion on display.
01. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m35.820
02. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m36.042 + 0.222
03. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m36.126 + 0.306
04. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.468 + 0.648
05. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m36.831 + 1.011
06. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m36.980 + 1.160
07. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m37.754 + 1.934
08. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m38.124 + 2.304
09. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes no time
10. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes no time
11. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m38.315 + 1.789
12. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m38.354 + 1.828
13. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m38.508 + 1.982
14. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.775 + 2.249
15. Bruno Senna Renault 1m38.791 + 2.265
16. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m39.189 + 2.663
17. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m39.443 + 2.917
18. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m39.538 + 2.013
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m40.522 + 2.997
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m41.101 + 3.576
21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m42.091 + 4.566
22. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m43.483 + 5.958
23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m43.758 + 6.233
24. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth no time