It was also the 24-year-old’s third successive pole in Valencia, his third pole of the year and 33rd of his career, equalling F1 legends Alain Prost and Jim Clark.
The defending drivers’ champion struggled for pace on Friday and was forced to use an extra set of tyres in Q2 to escape the cut – a gamble that paid off after a stunning lap towards the end of the final session secured his place on the front row beside second-fastestLewis Hamilton of McLaren.
“Oh yes, we did the right thing in the end – it was a challenge, but well worth it” he shouted over the team radio.
Vettel clocked a fastest lap time of one minute 38.086 at the Valencia street circuit, over three tenths faster than Hamilton and third-placed Pastor Maldonado of Williams.
Vettel admitted he was surprised to have taken pole in such a dominant fashion.
He said: “We had to put a second set of options in Q2. It was the right call because I don’t think my first lap was good enough.”
“I knew going at the end (of the session(, if the track comes in a little more, it should be good enough to have a look at pole.
“In the end it was a surprising gap. The boys have been working hard in the garage and at the factory to bring new parts. They seem to work. I’m looking forward to the race tomorrow.”
Hamilton, 14th fastest on Friday, admitted he did not think he had the pace to qualify so high up the order and expects a strong challenge from Lotus drivers Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen who start fourth and fifth on Sunday.
“I expected to be lot further back because we struggled all weekend with the set-up,” explained Hamilton.
“The guys did a great job to get me a gap, and the car felt pretty good but I think the gap is quite big here.
“Looking at the grid, because it’s so hot the Lotuses look massively competitive – they’ll be ones to watch out for tomorrow.”
Nico Rosberg of Mercedes took sixth for Mercedes ahead of Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber and Nico Hulkenberg of Williams.
Jenson Button made it to the top ten for the first time in three races in the second McLaren but will have to settle for ninth ahead of fellow Briton Paul Di Resta, the Force India driver looked set for a top five start but locked his brakes towards the end of his best lap and wound up tenth.
Monaco Grand Prix winner Australian Mark Webber failed to make the cut after Q1 after having trouble with his car setup.
The struggling 35-year-old will start 19th.
“We had no DRS!” explained Webber, “We only managed four laps today. We put the options on because things were getting desperate, but it didn’t work out and it’s a bda time for us.”
Both Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa failed to make the top ten shooutout, while Michael Schumacher wound up splitting the two Ferraris and will start 12th for Mercedes.
Williams driver Bruno Senna was 14th ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Sauber.
Marussia driver German Timo Glock was unwell and did not compete, he will start at the back of the grid in 24th.