SHANGHAI (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton roared to his first pole position for Mercedes in qualifying on Saturday for the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, as the warring Red Bulls had a day to forget.
Briton Hamilton, who has been struggling with a pollen 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 1min 34.484sec, compared to the Finn'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 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.
But Red Bull's reigning triple world champion Sebastian Vettel could qualify only ninth after he drove wide late on and failed to register a time in the final session. Nico Huelkenberg 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, bowed out in the second qualifying session after his Red Bull simply ground to a halt, waving to the crowd meekly.
The Australian will start Sunday's race (3pm local time) down in 14th.
"I've been healthy the last two weeks and then I came here and felt ill," said 2008 world champion Hamilton, whose previous two outings for Mercedes since leaving McLaren saw him qualify third in Australia and fourth in Malaysia.
Outside the top-10 shoot-out, 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 qualified only 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.