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Sebastian Vettel claimed the first pole of his Formula One career after he was fastest in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton will start way back in 15th place on the grid after rain lashed the Monza circuit, turning the qualifying session into a lottery.
Toro Rosso driver Vettel was the major beneficiary as he came in 0.06s faster than the McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen.
Felipe Massa could only manage sixth place in his Ferrari, but championship leader Hamilton was nine places further back - the worst qualifying performance of his career.
The Briton's McLaren will start one place behind Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari.
Hamilton effectively blew it at the start of the second session as he bided his time before emerging from the pits, and he paid the price.
A few minutes into the 15-minute period the rain scythed down, and only then did Hamilton take to the track, the last of the 15 to do so.
The other 14 at that stage had all managed to effectively put in a banker lap, and it was those times which carried them through as the track grew progressively slower as the rain became heavier.
Unfortunately for Hamilton and Raikkonen, fellow title challenger Massa just managed to scrape through into the top 10, and it proved crucial for the Brazilian.
Then shortly after Q2 drew to a close, the rain significantly eased, arguably adding to 23-year-old Hamilton's frustration.
Behind Vettel, giving his team their first pole, comes Heikki Kovalainen in his McLaren, followed by Red Bull's Mark Webber and the second Toro Rosso of Sebastien Bourdais.
Nico Rosberg will start fifth in his Williams, followed by Massa, the Toyota of Jarno Trulli, Renault's Fernando Alonso, Timo Glock in his Toyota and the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld.
It was always going to be an enthralling qualifying session, and so it proved as the field was turned on its head.
The conditions could not have been more treacherous, the worst for a qualifying session for some time, putting the drivers on the ragged edge.
It meant a clear track was more essential than usual, not just due to traffic, but more pertinently to avoid the plumes of spray from any drivers in front.
But unlike in the dry when a driver posts a hot lap and returns to the pits for fresh rubber, on the extreme wet tyres they were able to run a series of laps in a bid to improve their times.
Rain had started to fall shortly before the start of final practice and ceased soon after the end, returning again 15 minutes prior to the pit lane re-opening for qualifying.
Appreciably, the first few laps were tentative as the drivers tested where they could go quick and where the puddles of water lay.
The opening 20 minutes of qualifying served up more action than is usually seen throughout the entire hour, with drivers completing 12 and 13 laps.
It was Q2, though, which threw up the most dramatic of periods seen this season, with another title challenger in BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica also eliminated as he will start 11th.
For the first time this year, a Force India finally made it into Q2, with Giancarlo Fisichella starting a superb 12th ahead of the Red Bull of David Coulthard, Raikkonen and then Hamilton.
The first qualifying period ended with another Force India driver, Adrian Sutil, at the bottom of the timesheets as he will start 20th.
Also relegated were Rubens Barrichello in his Honda, the Brazilian starting 16th, with Renault's Nelson Piquet 17th and the Williams of Kazuki Nakajima 18th.
Disappointingly Jenson Button will start 19th for Honda, describing the car as the worst he has ever driven in these conditions.
1. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 1m 35.837
2. Heikki Kovalainen (Finland) McLaren 1:35.843
3. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Williams - Toyota 1:35.898
4. Jarno Trulli (Italy) Toyota 1:36.008
5. Sebastien Bourdais (France) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 1:36.175
6. Mark Webber (Australia) RedBull - Renault 1:36.306
7. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Renault 1:36.518
8. Timo Glock (Germany) Toyota 1:36.525
9. Nick Heidfeld (Germany) BMW Sauber 1:36.626
10. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 1:36.676
11. Robert Kubica (Poland) BMW Sauber 1:36.697
12. Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) Force India - Ferrari 1:36.698
13. David Coulthard (Britain) RedBull - Renault 1:37.284
14. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 1:37.522
15. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) McLaren 1:39.265
16. Rubens Barrichello (Brazil) Honda 1:36.510
17. Nelson Piquet (Brazil) Renault 1:36.630
18. Kazuki Nakajima (Japan) Williams - Toyota 1:36.653
19. Jenson Button (Britain) Honda 1:37.006
20. Adrian Sutil (Germany) Force India - Ferrari 1:37.417
FIA reveal plans for season finale to count double, permanent numbers and a budget cap.
Don't miss our 11 team-by-team 2013 reviews and special Christmas Show during December!
Relive ten memorable incidents from the season just gone and vote for your favourite in our poll.
Read the thoughts and opinions of Tony Jardine with skysports.com