Hamilton grabs pole for Chinese GP

Lewis Hamilton claimed his first pole as a Mercedes driver by winning Saturday's qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix.

In just his third start with Mercedes, Hamilton lapped the 3.386-mile Shanghai International Circuit in 1 minute, 34.484 seconds to win the top starting position for Sunday's 56-lap race. The 2008 Formula One world champion finished 0.28 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus.

"It's an incredible feeling, and I'm so happy to have our first pole for some time," said Hamilton, who won his 27th career F1 pole. "I'm just ecstatic really. The lap was great. The team performed well all weekend so far, and I hope that we can carry that into tomorrow."

Hamilton drove for McLaren from 2007-12 but joined Mercedes to replace Michael Schumacher, who retired from F1 for good after spending his last three seasons with the team.

"Today is such a blessing to be here, because it was such a big change for me, and a big step for me," Hamilton added. "I think I made the right choice."

Hamilton is the only driver with multiple victories in the Chinese GP, winning it in '08 (from the pole) and '11.

While Hamilton was at the top of the charts, Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber struggled in qualifying. Vettel, who won the most recent grand prix three weeks ago in Malaysia, had to abort his lap during Q3 when he had a braking issue. The three-time defending F1 champion used medium tires during the final session. He will start ninth with his choice of tires to begin the race.

"We were on a different strategy to the cars in front," Vettel said. "Whether that works or not, we will see tomorrow. But I'm confident we did the right thing, based on the facts we have. It was a different approach to normal in today's qualifying, and it all came down to the last few minutes for everyone."

Webber had initially qualified 14th, failing to advance into Q3, but he will have to start from the back of the grid after race stewards concluded he did not have enough fuel in his car for the mandatory one-liter sample when qualifying had concluded. Webber came to a stop on the track during Q2, which Red Bull later confirmed was caused by a refueling problem. A similar problem forced Vettel to start the November 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the rear of the field. He finished third in that race.

"It's very disappointing," Webber said. "We need a bit of luck now. It's not the optimum starting position, but we still have to try to get something from there."

Raikkonen will start second, followed by Fernando Alonso from Ferrari and Hamilton's teammate, Nico Rosberg, who started on the pole and won last year's Chinese GP. Alonso's teammate, Felipe Massa, will roll off fifth.

Romain Grosjean from Lotus qualified sixth. Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo took the seventh spot, and Jenson Button placed his McLaren eighth on the grid. Nico Hulkenberg from Sauber completed the top-10.

The Chinese GP is scheduled to start at 3 a.m. ET.