(CNN) -- Formula One championship leader Nico Rosberg claimed pole position for Sunday's British Grand Prix after a rain-affected qualifying session that saw his Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton slip back to sixth position, having at one stage looked set for top spot.
World champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull claimed second position on the grid at Silverstone on Saturday, while McLaren's Jenson Button boosted hopes of a home winner by qualifying third.
Force India's Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen of McLaren picked up positions four and five respectively.
Hamilton, who trails Rosberg by 29 points overall, had looked set to claim pole but pulled out of his final lap believing the damp conditions meant he could not better his Q3 time.
But as the skies cleared and track dried, Rosberg, Vettel, Button, Hulkenberg and Magnussen all passed the Briton.
Rosberg, with whom he has had a tetchy relationship at times this season, later spoke of his relief at Hamilton's decision.
"Wow, what a qualifying. It was so tricky out there this afternoon with the rain and the conditions changing so quickly," the German said.
"My last flying lap was difficult because we were very tight for time and I was stuck right up behind Lewis.
"Luckily he didn't finish his lap but I remembered that we were losing three or four seconds in the last corners when it was very wet, so there was an opportunity to make a real improvement and that I should keep going."
"It's a great opportunity to start the race from pole and I'll give it everything to take the win tomorrow."
Hamilton, seeking his first home victory since his championship-winning year of 2008, was left to rue his bad judgment.
"I made a mistake today and pulled out of the lap when I should have kept going. It was a tough qualifying with the changing conditions and we got through most of it really well, until the most important part," the Englishman said.
"It was my decision, a bad call, and that decided my qualifying.
"I need to have a start like I had in Austria two weeks ago and then do my best to get back to the front; you never know what might happen."
Hamilton can at least comfort himself at getting as far as the final qualifying session.
There were shock exits in Q1, as Williams' Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were eliminated along with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso.
It was a big setback for Massa and Bottas, who were on the front row in Austria just two weeks ago.
Elsewhere, Force India's Sergio Perez claimed seventh position just behind Hamilton and in front of Red Bull's eighth-placed Daniel Ricciardo.