By Andrew Benson
Motorsport editor at Silverstone
Fernando Alonso took pole position at the British Grand Prix as Jenson Button managed only 19th place on the grid.
Alonso timed it just right to pip Schumacher's fastest lap
The English Honda driver was eliminated in the first session, leaving a strong result in Sunday's race a distant hope.
Michael Schumacher's Ferrari had been fastest until the final runs, when Alonso grabbed pole with a lap of one minute 20.253 seconds.
McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen also got ahead of Schumacher to demote the German to third ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa.
Alonso had been just 0.043secs behind Schumacher before going into the last runs and he admitted he thought he might have lost his chance to beat the German.
"On the first lap I made a little mistake in the last sector and they told me on the radio I was second just behind Michael with very close times," the Spaniard said.
"So I thought maybe we lost pole with this mistake.
"We had a second chance with a second set of tyres and we did it. To have four consecutive poles, it is a fantastic moment for us."
Schumacher said: "We would have expected to be a bit closer in lap times but you have to consider also the fuel level. We will see tomorrow what the situation is with that. "
To have four consecutive poles, it is a fantastic moment for us
Drivers in the final session have to qualify with the amount of fuel with which they will start the race, so times are not necessarily an accurate reflection of performance.
That is not the case in the first two sessions, and Alonso pointed out that he was quickest in all three qualifying sessions.
This, he said, proved that his pace was not due to running a lighter fuel load than Ferrari.
Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella was fifth, ahead of Button's team-mate Rubens Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher's Toyota.
McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya and the BMW Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Jacques Villeneuve completed the top 10.
Button's performance, a new low in what has been an increasingly difficult season for Honda, was partly due to Button being called to have his car weighed, leaving not enough time to get in another lap.
But that amounts to a strategic error by Honda, as all teams know they can be called to the weigh bridge at any time during qualifying and must allow for it in their planning.
Button's woe was compounded by the performance of Barrichello, who beat him in qualifying for the fourth race in a row.
Button was not the only big name to be left at the back of the grid.
Toyota's Jarno Trulli will start last after his car caught fire in the opening minutes of qualifying.
And Williams driver Mark Webber, who battled for the lead in Monaco two weeks ago, was also eliminated at the first stage and will start 17th.
Alonso's pole, the fourth in a row for the world championship leader, left him 0.114secs ahead of Raikkonen, who was the Spaniard's biggest rival for victory last time out in Monaco.
Results from qualifying at Silverstone
1. Fernando Alonso, Spain, Renault, 1 minute 20.253 seconds.
2. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, McLaren, 1:20.397.
3. Michael Schumacher, Germany, Ferrari, 1:20.574.
4. Felipe Massa, Brazil, Ferrari, 1:20.764.
5. Giancarlo Fisichella, Italy, Renault, 1;20.919.
6. Rubens Barrichello, Brazil, Honda, 1:20.943.
7. Ralf Schumacher, Germany, Toyota, 1:21.073.
8. Juan Pablo Montoya, Colombia, McLaren, 1:21.107.
9. Nick Heidfeld, Germany, BMW-Sauber, 13, 1:21.329.
10. Jacques Villeneuve, Canada, BMW-Sauber, 14, 1:21.599.
Eliminated after second 15-minute session
11. David Coulthard, Britain, Red Bull, 1:21.442.
12. Nico Rosberg, Germany, Williams, 1:21.567.
13. Vitantonio Liuzzi, Italy, Scuderia Toro Rosso, 1:21.699.
14. Christian Klien, Austria, Red Bull-Cosworth, 1:21.990.
15. Scott Speed, US, Scuderia Toro Rosso, 1:22.076.
16. Tiego Monteiro, Portugal, Midland, 1:22.207.
Eliminated after first 15-minute session
17 . Mark Webber, Australia, Williams, 1:23.129
18. Christijan Albers, Netherlands, Midland, 1:23.210.
19. Jenson Button, Britain, Honda, 1:23.247.
20. Takuma Sato, Japan, Super Aguri, 1:26.158.
21. Franck Montagny, France, Super Aguri, 1:26.316.
22 . Jarno Trulli, Italy, Toyota, no time