SINGAPORE -- Lewis Hamilton maintained McLaren's recent dominance by claiming pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix, and said on Saturday the season was mapping out perfectly for a Formula One championship challenge.
Hamilton gave McLaren a fourth consecutive pole for the first time since 1999, and his chances of also making it four straight wins in Sunday's race were boosted by Williams' Pastor Maldonado snatching a surprise second place in qualifying, providing a buffer to the Briton's title rivals.
"We have put ourselves in the best position, so we need to capitalize on that," Hamilton said. "We've done the work we need to do to put us in a strong position for tomorrow -- the key will just be to stay out of trouble and look after the tires.
"I've always believed that if we could start the season strongly, we'd be able to pull ahead. We've been there or thereabouts all season, but now we're starting to see the real strength of my team pull through."
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel qualified a disappointing third after being the fastest in all three practice sessions. He was surprised he couldn't manage at least a front-row spot.
"It's hard to say what happened. A little disappointed, especially Q3," Vettel said. "It's a shame it didn't come together at the end."
Maldonado provided the shock of the night by taking second. Aside from his surprise win at the Spanish Grand Prix, the Venezuelan has been in the points only one other time this season.
He was even more enthused about the chances for a shock victory by the fact that the car performed well during the long-stint, heavy-fuel race settings.
"I'm really looking forward to the race because yesterday we showed very good pace, very consistent. So I think it is going to be a good one for us this time!"
Jenson Button of McLaren qualified fourth, ahead of Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, who holds a 37-point lead over Hamilton in the championship standings with seven races to go.
"We were not quick enough in free practice, and not quick enough in qualifying," Alonso said. "The McLarens were unbeatable, at least for pole.
"Starting fifth, on the inside, we have a good position to fight for the podium, which is maybe the maximum for the weekend."
Force India's Paul di Resta equaled a career best by qualifying sixth, one place ahead of Red Bull's Mark Webber, who was cleared by stewards after complaints by Marussia's Timo Glock that the Australian caused interference in the first qualifying session.
Lotus' Romain Grosjean will start from eighth, recovering from heavy contact with a wall earlier in the qualifying session. The Frenchman again beat teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who was down in 12th, dealing a blow to his championship challenge.
Mercedes pair Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg finished ninth and 10th, having failed to set times in Q3. Instead they only did formation laps on harder tires, meaning they will start on that rubber in the race, giving them different strategies to the cars ahead.
Felipe Massa of Ferrari qualified 13th, a place ahead of Sauber's Sergio Perez, who finished second in the previous race but whose car had been off the pace throughout practice.
At the tail end of the grid, Charles Pic of Marussia will have 20 seconds added to his race finishing time as punishment for ignoring red flags during practice.