MONACO (AFP) - Defending world champion and current series leader Lewis Hamilton secured his maiden pole position at the Monaco Grand Prix when he topped Saturday's qualifying times ahead of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
It was the 30-year-old Briton's first success on the streets of his favourite circuit and came at the ninth attempt as he outpaced Rosberg in a tight contest to claim the 43rd pole of his career.
"It has been a long, long time," said Hamilton. "I can't express to you how happy I am. It was not the easiest session. There were a lot of things that throw you off your rhythm and I did not have that rhythm until the last couple of laps.
"I am very, very happy. This track is so hard. It is difficult to express how difficult it is. In our session we had some problem with tyres and traffic, it was not easy so it makes it even more special. We had some really bad laps, so it was great."
Hamilton clocked a final best lap in 1min 15.090sec to wind up three-tenths of a second clear of Rosberg and fellow-German Sebastian Vettel, who was third for Ferrari ahead of the two Red Bulls of Australian Daniel Ricciardo and Russian Daniil Kvyat.
Rosberg said: "It was the other way round for me. I knew Lewis was quick and it didn't work out for me."
Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who had crashed during morning practice, was sixth in the second Ferrari ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India, Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso, Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado of Lotus and Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, who was 10th in the second Toro Rosso.
Hamilton struggled to find his best form through the first two parts of qualifying before hitting his rhythm in the final top-ten shootout.
Rosberg was quickest in the first two mini-sessions, but made minor errors under pressure when he twice locked up at the Ste Devote corner.
Hamilton's success ended Rosberg's hopes of claiming a hat-trick of three successive poles in the Mediterranean principality and gives him a good opportunity to stop the German recording a third straight win in Sunday's classic 78 laps race.
After a cool, dry morning, the conditions were overcast as qualifying began with a track temperature of 26 deg C and an air temperature of 18 deg C.
The two Mercedes were out early and soon topped the times with Rosberg ending up narrowly fastest in Q1 ahead of Hamilton, with Verstappen third.
Ferrari gambled on leaving it late with Raikkonen sneaking through, but fellow-Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams was eliminated in 17th place.
Out with him went 16th placed Brazilian Felipe Nasr and his Sauber team-mate Swede Marcus Ericcson together with the two Manor Marussia men Briton Will Stevens and Spaniard Roberto Merhi.
German Nico Hulkenberg, who brushed the barriers in his Force India, squeezed through after essential repairs while Button made solid progress for the struggling McLaren Honda team.
In Q2, it was a different story for his team-mate two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso who ran wide and then came to a halt at Ste Devote, smoke rising from his McLaren. It ended his session.
Rosberg continued to drive with great rhythm and consistency, clocking a best lap of 1:15.471 to top Q2 ahead of Vettel with Hamilton third, seven-tenths adrift.
The champion was clearly feeling the pressure. He radioed in to tell his team: "Let's calm down and reset for this run. That was a really bad run... No gaps." On his next effort, Hamilton improved to within four-tenths shortly before Rosberg, pushing to improve his time, made an error at Ste Devote and locked up his right front wheel as he ran off into the escape road to escape damage.
It was a setback ahead of the top ten shootout, but he was already through as the quickest man.
Out went Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Lotus, Button, Hulkenberg, Brazilian Felipe Massa of Williams and Alonso.
As Q3 began, the temperatures and some rain fell, making tyre management more challenging. The spectators around the crowded harbour applauded the drivers' total commitment as their cars bounced and danced between the railings.