SHANGHAI: Lewis Hamilton Saturday roared to his first pole position for Mercedes, in a qualifying session at the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai that was dominated by tyre strategy.
The Briton, who has been struggling with an allergy and went home early from the track on Thursday, left it late in the final session to grab pole ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, the winner last month in Australia.
In warm and dry conditions, the electric Hamilton, who was fastest in all three qualifying sessions, clocked a best time of one minute 34.484 sec, compared to Raikkonen's 1:34.761. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was third-fastest.
Nico Rosberg, Hamilton's team-mate, whose win in Shanghai last year was his first victory, qualified in fourth, ahead of the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian will line up on the third row with Romain Grosjean of Lotus.
Surprise-package Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso and Jenson Button of McLaren rounded out the top eight.
Red Bull's reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel could only qualify in ninth, but he will have a free choice of tyres for the race after failing to log a time in the third and final session.
Under the rules most of the other drivers will have to start on soft tyres after using them in the third session of qualifying.
Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber was 10th on the grid.
Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber, whose strained relationship with the German has put both men in the spotlight, waved to the crowd meekly after bowing out in only the second qualifying session after his Red Bull simply ground to a halt.
He will start Sunday's race at the back of the grid after race stewards ruled there was insufficient fuel in his car for a sample and the car could not be driven back to the pits, as required.
Red Bull said a problem with a fuel browser was to blame.
“I've been healthy the last two weeks and then I came here and felt ill,” said Hamilton, whose previous two outings for Mercedes since defecting from McLaren saw him qualify third in Australia and fourth in Malaysia.
The 28-year-old, the 2008 world champion, has reportedly been suffering a pollen allergy.
“Of course it worries you a bit, but I've been getting plenty of rest and this is the best day I've had for a few days now. Tomorrow should be even better.”
Vettel, along with Button, opted to run medium rubber in the final session, putting him in strong contention for the race despite his lowly placing.
The German says that he hopes he will not have to pit as early as his rivals, who will start on the quicker but faster-wearing soft tyres.
“Generally I think we saw yesterday on soft tyres everyone was struggling, so were we. I had to make them last so we decided to do something different. We didn't set a lap time at all so we have a choice to go either way tomorrow.”
Alonso, the two-time world champion, said: “I'm very happy. This weekend has been very good for us.
“The car felt competitive from Friday. The car responded well to the changes we made. Tomorrow, if everything goes well, we should be able to fight for the podium with both cars.”
Outside the top-10 shootout, Force India's Adrian Sutil found it rough going, his team telling him over the radio in the first qualifying session that it “looks a bit of a struggle”. He only qualified in 13th.
Another high-profile casualty in Q2 was McLaren's Sergio Perez, who has been battling all week for form and had to settle for 12th on the grid.
The Chinese Grand Prix -- the third of the season -- is on Sunday at 0700 GMT.