Hamilton tops Maldonado for Spanish GP pole

Lewis Hamilton from McLaren claimed his third pole of the season by winning Saturday's qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Pastor Maldonado from Williams surprisingly held the provisional pole in the closing minutes of Q3, but Hamilton turned a fast lap around the 4.655- kilometer (2.892-mile) Circuit de Catalunya in 1 minute, 21.707 seconds for his 22nd career pole in Formula One.

"It was a fantastic qualifying session for me," Hamilton said. "I think it's one of the best I've ever had."

After completing his final qualifying lap, Hamilton came to a stop on the track for no apparent reason. He eventually drove his car back to the garage area.

"I stopped on the track because I was told to stop," he said. "I don't have any idea why. The car was feeling great today, and it's really a great day for the team."

Maldonado, in his second year in F1, recorded his best qualifying finish with a lap in 1:22.285.

"We've been working so hard since the beginning of the year trying to understand these tires and to develop our car around the tires," Maldonado said. "We had a very good step forward for this race."

Spaniard Fernando Alonso placed his Ferrari third on the starting grid. Alonso posted a lap in 1:22.302 in front of his home crowd.

Ferrari dealt with performance and reliability problems with its cars when F1 held pre-season testing at this circuit two months ago. Alonso had qualified no better than eighth in the first four grand prix this year.

"For us, it was impossible to dream about being in the top three in the first four races," he said. "It's definitely a step forward."

Lotus teammates Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen qualified fourth and fifth, respectively. Sergio Perez from Sauber placed sixth, and Mercedes' Nico Rosberg was seventh.

Two-time defending world champion and current points leader Sebastian Vettel will start eighth after his Red Bull team opted not to make a qualifying run during Q3.

"We decided to abort the lap to have a free choice of tires for the race," Vettel said. "If I had set a lap, we would have to start the race on soft tires."

Michael Schumacher from Mercedes and Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi will line up ninth and 10th in that order. Both drivers also did not participate in the final qualifying stint.

Jenson Button and Mark Webber shockingly failed to advance into Q3. Button experienced balancing issues with his McLaren car during the first two qualifying segments. He will start 11th.

"I don't know where it went wrong," Button said. "I've struggled with balance all day. We were quickest on the soft tire yesterday. I thought we would be reasonably competitive and at least get into Q3, but that's not the case."

Webber turned a lap early in Q2 but did not make another lap for the remainder of the session to save his tires. He started on the pole for last year's Spanish GP.

"The first lap in Q2 was very competitive, but it lulled us into a false sense of security, so we parked up the car," said Webber, who will start 12th.

Vettel, who won the most recent grand prix in Bahrain three weeks ago, holds a four-point lead over Hamilton in the championship standings. Webber is five points behind his teammate, while Button and Alonso are both 10 markers out of the lead.

Sunday's 66-lap Spanish GP is scheduled to start at 8 a.m. (ET).