Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull won his first pole of the 2012 Formula One season after topping McLaren's Lewis Hamilton in Saturday's qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Vettel, the two-time defending F1 world champion, posted a lap in 1 minute, 32.422 seconds at Bahrain International Circuit for his 31st career pole. Last year, the young German won a season-record 15 poles. He had started fifth, sixth and 11th in the first three grand prix this season -- Australia, Malaysia and China.

"It feels great, and I think this one I completely owe to the team," Vettel said. "It hasn't been the best start to the season for us. We've been extremely busy working on the car, trimming here and there and finding the perfect solution."

Hamilton held the provisional pole late in Q3 with a lap in 1:32.520, but Vettel's last lap turned out to be 0.98 seconds quicker.

"I'm very happy with the job that we've done," Hamilton said. "We've just been trying to improve the setups throughout the weekend."

Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber, qualified a season-best third.

"We're satisfied to be towards the front," Webber said. "I think we're pretty surprised to be as competitive as we are on a track which is demanding and not one of our strengths."

Jenson Button from McLaren will start fourth, followed by Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, who won his first F1 pole and grand prix last weekend in China.

Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo qualified sixth, and Romain Grosjean placed his Lotus seventh on the grid. Sergio Perez from Sauber took the eighth spot.

Fernando Alonso, who won the most recent race at Bahrain in 2010, drove his Ferrari to a ninth-place finish in qualifying. Paul di Resta from Force India completed the top-10.

Michael Schumacher failed to make it out of Q1 after experiencing a rear wing issue. Schumacher, the seven-time F1 champion and 2004 Bahrain race winner, qualified 18th.

Hamilton enters the fourth grand prix of the season with a two-point lead over Button and eight ahead of Alonso. Webber is nine points in back of the lead, while Vettel trails by 17.

Despite continued civil unrest in this Middle Eastern country, the 57-lap Bahrain GP is still scheduled to run on Sunday at 8 a.m. (et). Last year's race here was canceled due to the anti-government demonstrations.