SHANGHAI -- Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton took the pole position for Formula One's Chinese Grand Prix.
Hamilton's best time Saturday at the Shanghai International Circuit was 1 minute, 34.484 seconds, qualifying a quarter of a second ahead of Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso will start third in Sunday's race.
"It's an incredible feeling, so happy to have our first pole for some time," Hamilton said. "I'm just ecstatic really, the lap was great."
"I can't answer (critics) with one result but bit by bit, as we progress and improve, they will have to stand corrected. I am so grateful because it could have gone the other way. It was such a big choice for me and a big step for me but I made the right call."
A cat-and-mouse qualifying session allowed all drivers to restrict their time on the track to preserve their tires for the race, with all of the top 10 having only one flying lap in the final stage of qualifying.
McLaren's Jenson Button and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel both elected to do their flying lap on the harder of the two tire compounds, sacrificing grid position so they can have a longer stint at the beginning of the race. Button qualified eighth and Vettel ninth.
Of the top three, Hamilton is likely going to have to pit first, as the Mercedes has quickly degraded the soft tires throughout the weekend and his times are likely to start dropping after as few as two or three laps.
He is putting faith in his team's decision to start on the soft tires and not follow the example of championship leader Vettel in settling for a lower grid spot but a longer first stint on Sunday.
"I have really good strategists and I just trust them and their decisions and stand by it," Hamilton said. "No matter what strategy you are on everyone will struggle on the option tire, whether it's high or low fuel."
Red Bull's Mark Webber had a fuel pressure failure in the second sector of qualifying, putting him 14th. He was later relegated to the back of the grid because his car didn't have enough fuel in the tank to provide the requisite liter to race stewards.
Raikkonen came up just short of his first pole in five years, set when he was with Ferrari.
"Second is not too bad. It's the best I've achieved with the team. I would rather be in first place but we don't have the speed," Raikkonen said.
The Finn won the season-opening race in Australia by having one less pit-stop than his rivals. If he can nurse his tires again Sunday, he will be hard to beat.
"It's a big question mark because we were pretty happy (Friday), but the car is not the same as then," Raikkonen said. "Hopefully it will turn out to be good tomorrow, but it will be pretty close and whoever gets it exactly right will make a difference."
Alonso edged Massa by about a tenth of a second to avoid qualifying behind a teammate for a fifth straight race, which has never happened in his career.
"The car has been competitive from Friday and this morning we made changes and the car responded well," Alonso said. "We have a good setup for the race, which is the most important thing. Tomorrow, if everything goes well, we should fight for the podium with both cars."