(CNN) -- World championship leader Jenson Button captured pole position for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix after a dramatic climax to qualifying at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.
Bright as a Button: Jenson, center, celebrates pole in Spain flanked by Barrichello, left, and Red Bull's Vettel.
Briton Button, who has triumphed in three of the four races so far this season, took the No. 1 spot ahead of Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel with Brawn GP team-mate Rubens Barrichello third.
The last eight winners in Spain and 13 of the last 14 overall have started on pole, underlining the limited overtaking opportunities at the track and making Button's sixth career pole all the more critical.
"It could have gone very wrong," Button told media after a pulsating qualifying performance was rewarded with his third pole of the campaign.
"But it was by far the best lap I've had this weekend, so I'm very happy. It was a bit of a surprise. When I heard the shouts I had qualified on pole, it felt very good.
Looking at the wider picture, he added: "The package is a good step forward. We have to work with it a bit more, and get the most out of it -- I hope we can anyway. But I'm excited. I didn't expect to be sat in this position at the moment."
Vettel, who has qualified in the top three in each of the five races this season, said: "We have a very strong car. This weekend it has worked pretty well, but not good enough to beat Jenson.
"I would have loved to have had the pole, but second position is great."
Like Button, Barrichello is also happy with the car, but knows he has to do more if he is to beat the Briton.
"A great effort from Jenson," said Barrichello. "He is doing a really good job and deserves to be there. I just have to try harder and harder to get him."
Felipe Massa epitomised Ferrari's improvement this weekend as he will start from a season-high fourth, with Mark Webber in his Red Bull fifth.
The bottom five, though, was equally as remarkable as it proved to be a bad day for Finland with Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen failing to make it into Q2.
Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton faired little better as he will start from 14th, the worst position of his F1 career in the dry.
"I guess it's a bit of a disappointing qualifying for us," said Hamilton. "We did the best we could, but the laps weren't fantastic. We had hoped to be higher up.
"But it's not last, and there's lots that can happen. It's a long tough race, so I hope we can get a point, that would be great."
Raikkonen's flop followed a "miscalculation" from Ferrari who believed he was safe with his time after running for just five laps.
But as he sat in the garage his name slowly slid down the timing screen until coming to rest at 16th, his worst performance since Australia last year.
Raikkonen said: "It's really disappointing because the car was looking in good shape this weekend. I was not too keen to go out again either really because I thought the time we had done would be enough."
Behind Sebastien Bourdais in his Toro Rosso, Kovalainen will start 18th, his lowest grid slot since joining McLaren prior to last season.
Afterwards, Kovalainen revealed he "didn't have the grip and...no confidence to push it (the car) whatsoever".
Kovalainen only narrowly finished ahead of the Force India duo, with neither Adrian Sutil nor Giancarlo Fisichella making it into Q2 for the 23rd consecutive race as they will start 19th and 20th.
The top 10 was rounded out by the Toyotas of Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli in sixth and seventh, Fernando Alonso eighth for Renault, with Nico Rosberg ninth in his Williams and Robert Kubica 10th for BMW Sauber.