Hamilton, who holds a four-point championship lead over Sebastian Vettel, delivered a record-breaking lap of Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya to claim his first pole since the opening round in Australia.
Vettel has been the one-lap master this year following a hat-trick of poles, but the Ferrari man had no answer for an inspired Hamilton here on Saturday. Vettel will line up in third after qualifying 0.132 seconds slower than Hamilton.
Kimi Raikkonen finished in fourth place for Ferrari, ahead of the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
“It was very close but I am very happy,” Hamilton said. “I needed this pole because I haven’t had one for a while.”
Vettel added: “I was happy with the lap. The first run was not so good, but the last lap felt good. Then I looked where I ended up and I saw that my name didn’t go to the top. We expected Mercedes to be strong.”
McLaren arrived for the opening leg of the European season armed with a series of upgrades and hopeful of turning a corner following their miserable start to the season.
On the fifth anniversary of his last victory in F1, Fernando Alonso ensured a McLaren car progressed to the final phase of qualifying for the first time this year.
The 36-year-old Spaniard will line up in eighth place with his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne 11th. Progress perhaps, but there is still work to do for the team who claimed they would rival Red Bull this year following their switch from Honda to Renault power.
British team Williams could once boast the might of Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet, who between them shared nine world championships.
But their current line-up of Lance Stroll, the Canadian teenager whose career has been bankrolled by his fashion billionaire father Lawrence, and Russian Sergey Sirotkin, is possibly the worst in the team’s history.
Their car is desperately poor this year, too, and they will head into tomorrow’s race rooted to the foot of the constructors’ championship.
It seems certain they will remain there after Stroll crashed out of qualifying, while Sirotkin was only one place ahead of him. Stroll stepped on to the gravel at Turn 12 and spun into the barriers to bring a premature end to his session.
It marked the third time he has been in the gravel this weekend. “I’ve never seen a Formula One car crash like that on the exit of Turn 12,” Sky Sports pundit Martin Brundle said in bemusement.
Williams will be spared the indignity of seeing both of their cars on the final row of the grid after Brendon Hartley suffered a 160mph crash in final practice.
New Zealander Hartley, 28, was taken to the medical centre for precautionary checks but despite being given the green light to continue his Toro Rosso team were unable to get his severely damaged car ready in time for qualifying.
Team Abu Dhabi 6 was dramatically demoted to third position in the final results of the 24 Hours of Rouen endurance race by race officials on Monday evening, despite finishing the race second, ahead of the Touax Pegase Racing Team.
Both boats had completed the shortened 17-hour race on the River Seine in Northern France 20 laps behind the race-winning Team Nollet by New Star 20.
But race officials deemed that Thani and Rashed Al Qemzi, Rashed Al Tayer and American Shaun Torrente were behind their French rivals on their 537th and final lap and third place was the result.
The team appealed the decision in vain and will now try to win the UIM World Endurance Championship at the next round at Augustow in Poland in two month’s time.
Team Abu Dhabi had overcame several niggling technical issues, a costly eight-lap penalty and a late scare over fuel levels to believe they had initially clinched second overall in the prestigious race.
With the weather improving somewhat for the second session of a race that started seven hours late on Monday because of appalling conditions, the foursome completed a topsy-turvy race.
They held second for a couple of hours at the start and then fought back from seventh place to eventually finish behind the winning Team Nollet by New Star 20 DAC.
Fuel level issues for Team Abu Dhabi and a late scare for the eventual winners ensured a thrilling conclusion to the shortened 17-hour race.
Team Abu Dhabi’s challenge suffered lap penalties during the first session for turn buoy violations and debris wrapped around the propeller in fading light and then two prop shaft failures and a broken compressor in the last few hours of the second session on the 3.8km course.
But the team fought back resolutely and reached the chequered flag 20 laps behind the winners, despite running dangerously low on fuel in the final minutes of the race.
Touax Pegase Racing Team (8) usurped Abu Dhabi of second place with the UAE team rounding off the podium positions.
Team Nollet by New Star 1, crewed by three-time UIM F1 H2O world champion Philippe Chiappe, Peter and Nelson Morin and Russian driver Konstantin Ustinov, led until the end of the first session, despite flipping the boat in the dark near the end of the stint, eventually taking fifth overall.
“Everyone worked hard in a very difficult race in demanding conditions,” said Salem Al Remeithi, general manager of the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club (ADIMSC).
“We obviously wanted to finish first, but this is a race of endurance and we overcame several obstacles to finish second.”
Torrente added: “Second place confirmed, maybe with one litre of fuel left in the boat at the finish. Rashed Al Tayer did a great job in the final stint in managing the fuel and just going fast enough to stay in front of the number eight boat.
“We only had one penalty all race. We are really happy. Now we will go to Poland and try and win the World Championship in July.”
Jenson Button has announced he will take part in this year’s famous Le Mans 24 Hours race.
The 2009 Formula One world champion, 38, has been competing in Japan since he retired from Grand Prix racing two years ago but he will bid to emulate Britain’s Graham Hill and Mike Hawthorn by winning the prestigious race which takes place in June.
Button’s former McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso will also be part of the star-studded cast in Le Mans.
Button will line up alongside former Renault driver Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin for the Russian team SMP Racing.
SMP Racing was founded by billionaire Boris Rotenberg, whose brother Arkady is a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As well as competing at Le Mans, Button will also race in front of his home fans at Silverstone later this summer as part of the World Endurance Championship.
— WEC (@FIAWEC) April 27, 2018
“As you can imagine it has been a dream of mine to race at Le Mans,” Button said. “It is every driver’s dream to go on and clinch that win and I am no different.
“My team-mates for this year will be Mikhail and Vitaly Petrov, who I know very well from his racing in Formula One.
“With those two and all the experience we have from different types of racing, and the team’s experience in endurance racing, we go to Le Mans to fight for the win.
“We have a really good chance of being competitive at Le Mans.
“First of all it is survival, and then you see where you are after the 24 hours and hopefully we are fighting for that victory.”
Nick Tandy was the last British driver to win the Le Mans race, when he teamed up with German F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg back in 2015.
Button took part in more than 300 grands prix in a career which climaxed in winning the 2009 championship with Brawn GP.