saving a set of tyres. OLD ONE-TWO FOR RED BULL; Seb's super run ends as Webber claims pole.
Sandwiched in between the duo is Sauber's Sergio Perez, who is also two places ahead of his team-mate Kamui Kobayashi.
The star turn was Heikki Kovalainen, making Q2 for only the second time for Lotus, and giving the team their best position in a dry qualifying session of 15th.
The Finn was able to beat the Force India pair of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, who start 16th and 17th, with the Silverstone-based team suddenly having slipped to the back of the mid-field pack.
The initial 20-minute session proved to be more of a cat-and-mouse affair than is usually the case due to the tyre situation.
Pirelli have this weekend unveiled their super-hard compound which was yesterday slated by Hamilton as "a disaster" - with many other drivers far from happy either.
The tyre is two-and-a-half seconds slower per lap than the soft rubber, so it was a question of which drivers would gamble on not using the softs in Q1.
Front-runners Red Bull and McLaren both survived, the latter marque more comfortable than their positions of 14th for Hamilton and 15th for Button suggest as they were two seconds clear of the drop zone.
Other teams like Ferrari and Mercedes both opted to use softs to guarantee their place in Q2, the flipside being they now have one less set of fresh rubber for today's race.
Button recorded a 1:24.428 lap in Q1, whilst Lotus' Jarno Trulli, who had a gearbox issue and had to have his steering wheel replaced, set a lap of 1:26.521 and will start 18th.
Rubens Barrichello also had a gearbox problem, managing just five laps in his Williams, so starts 19th ahead of Virgin Racing's Timo Glock and Hispania Racing's Vitantonio Liuzzi.
The Italian's team-mate Narain Karthikeyan will line up 22nd, with Jerome D'Ambrosio in the second Virgin in 23rd ahead of the Renault of Nick Heidfeld.
A naturally delighted Webber said: "It was a good session.
"We didn't underestimate the other guys, but Seb and I thought we would be battling for pole.
"I was just praying my time went above the number one (referring to Vettel) as I crossed the finishing line, and it did.
"It was a nice lap, a good battle with Seb, and today was my day."
The winner of this race has come from pole on the last ten occasions, and Webber added: "I hope I can make it 11.
"I'll be relaxed tonight, I'll have a good sleep and I'll come back refreshed tomorrow and try and get the victory."
Vettel refused to concede the fact he ran without the KERS power-boost system in Q2 and Q3, unlike Webber, cost him pole.
Although the system is worth as much as 0.4secs, Vettel said: "I can't speak of disappointment."
THE GRID 1 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1min 20.981secs, 2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1:21.181, 3 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) McLaren 1:21.961, 4 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari 1:21.964, 5 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren 1:21.996, 6 Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Renault 1:22.471, 7 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:22.599, 8 Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:22.888, 9 Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams 1:22.952, 10 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP No Time, 11 Sebastien Buemi (Swi) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:23.231, 12 Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:23.367, 13 Jaime Alguersuari (Spa) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:23.694, 14 Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber-Ferrari 1:23.702, 15 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Lotus F1 1:25.403, 16 Paul di Resta (Gbr) Force India 1:26.126, 17 Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India 1:26.571, 18 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Lotus F1 1:26.521, 19 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Williams 1:26.910, 20 Timo Glock (Ger) Virgin Racing 1:27.315, 21 Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) HRT-F1 1:27.809, 22 Narain Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT-F1 1:27.908, 23 Jerome d'Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin Racing 1:28.556, 24 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Renault No Time
A BIT TO DO: Jenson Button