The rear of Hamilton’s car got away from him on cold tyres into Turn 1 as the world champion began his last Q3 run, putting him off the road and out of the session. Rosberg then looked set to overhaul the Briton’s time, only for the German to beach his car in the gravel at Turn 9 after an error that began at the previous corner.
Mercedes locked out the front row nonetheless, with third place going to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. He was followed by Williams’ Felipe Massa, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Williams' Valtteri Bottas. It is Mercedes' 19th consecutive pole - the Silver Arrows have now been on pole for an entire calendar year.
Q1 began on a track fast drying after the morning's rain, with Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen fastest early on using Pirelli's intermediate compound. He quickly expressed the view that slicks were necessary, although it was Sauber’s Felipe Nasr who first made the switch. The rest of the field followed suit and, as conditions improved, times rapidly tumbled.
It became a free for all - Massa, Bottas, Vettel, Rosberg, Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz, Lotus's Pastor Maldonado and even McLaren's Jenson Button had turns at the top, but in the end Rosberg was fastest on 1m 10.976s, from Sainz, Vettel and Verstappen. Hamilton fell to 13th after Sauber's Marcus Ericsson got in the way at Turn 1, and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was in the pits when all the fast times were being set and was down in a disastrous 18th. "How is that possible?" he asked, or words to that effect…
Force India's Sergio Perez was also out as a McLaren's Fernando Alonso found late improvements, the Mexican posting 1m 12.522s for 16th. Button was 17th on 1m 12.632s, ahead of Raikkonen and the Marussias of Roberto Merhi on 1m 14.071s and Will Stevens, who went off in Turn 7 before posting 1m 15.368s.
Things were a little more settled for Q2. Rosberg was fastest on a dominant 1m 08.634s as Hamilton struggled for 1m 09.062s and Vettel, late out, did a fine 1m 09.392s on his one run to head Bottas, Hulkenberg and Verstappen.
Maldonado was the first faller in 11th on 1m 10.374s, ahead of Ericsson on 1m 10.426s, Sainz on 1m 10.465s, the brake-troubled Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo in 1m 10.482s and Alonso on 1m 10.736s.
Hamilton finally got everything together on the first runs in Q3, edging Rosberg by two tenths of a second, with Vettel and the Williams duo of Massa and Bottas fractionally behind.
The scene was set for Hamilton and Rosberg to slog it out for the pole, but the conclusion was far from typical as both men made mistakes. Vettel meanwhile improved but was unable to exploit his rivals' problems any further and will line up third.
Massa was fourth, but Bottas failed to improve and was beaten to fifth by Nico Hulkenberg, the Le Mans 24 Hours winner edging ahead by four hundredths of a second.
Verstappen was seventh for Toro Rosso, narrowly ahead of Red Bull stable mate Daniil Kvyat. Nasr was ninth for Sauber, while problems with Lotus's brake-by-wire system prevented Romain Grosjean from setting a time in the final shootout.
In terms of the grid, there are myriad penalties to factor in - both Red Bulls have 10 place penalties, and both McLarens have 25.