BARCELONA, May 12, 2012 (AFP) - Briton Lewis Hamilton took his third pole position of the season and the 150th of McLaren's Formula One history with a dazzling lap in the final minute of Saturday's qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, clocked a best lap of 1min 21.707sec to finish half a second clear of nearest rival, Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado of Williams, at the end of a closely contested and highly-tactical session.
Spaniard Fernando Alonso delighted his home fans when he claimed third place for Ferrari ahead of Frenchman Romain Grosjean and his Lotus team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen.
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull will line up eighth.
Hamilton's third pole of the season was the 22nd of his career and stretched his run of front row starts to five in succession. For Williams, it was a great present for team founder Frank Williams, who was celebrating his 70th birthday in the team garage.
Hamilton said: "It was one of the best qualifyings I've ever had -- I stopped out on the track afterwards because I was told to stop. I have no idea why!"
Despite teammate Jenson Button finishing 11th and failing to make the cut into the top-ten shootout session, he added: "But it's a great day for the team. Jenson (Button) has great strength in the race so I have no doubt he will make his way up."
Mexican Sergio Perez of Sauber was sixth ahead of German Nico Rosberg of Mercedes and, unexpectedly, Vettel, who will line up eighth.
Seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher of Mercedes was ninth and Japanese Kamui Kobayashi was 10th in the second Sauber.
Both Vettel and Schumacher chose not to clock a competitive time in Q3 on a day when it was clear that many teams and drivers were more interested in preserving as many sets of tyres as possible in preference to claiming a strong grid position.
"There is nothing is wrong," said Vettel. "We decided to abort the lap to have a free choice of tyres for the race. If I had set a lap, we would have to start the race on soft tyres.
"In Q2, the first run was crucial. I didn't manage to pull a lap out so I had to use my final set of tyres to get into Q3. We simply weren't quick enough.
"We'll see how it goes for tomorrow. We were a bit surprised how much of a step the others could do, but I'm quite confident for race. We always have a good race car. We have a couple of new sets which has proved successful for others in previous races this year."
Maldonado said: "We have worked so hard to understand these tyres and develop our car around them and this is a great step forward for the team. We have such a good spirit and the car feels fantastic."
Alonso said he drive could not have gone any better.
"This is a step forward for us - it was impossible to dream of of the top three in the first four races," said the Spaniard.
"We have made a big step and I was really happy with the lap. I could fit 100 more sets of tyres and not do better. It was perfect."