BARCELONA  - Briton Lewis Hamilton took his third pole position of the season and the 150th of McLaren’s Formula One history with a dazzling lap in the final minute of Saturday’s qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.

The 27-year-old Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, clocked a best lap of 1min 21.707sec to finish half a second clear of nearest rival, Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado of Williams, at the end of a closely-contested and highly-tactical session.

Hamilton’s third pole of the season was the 22nd of his career and stretched his run of front row starts to five in succession. For Williams, it was a great present for team founder Frank Williams, who was celebrating his 70th birthday in the team garage.

Spaniard Fernando Alonso delighted his home fans when he claimed third place for Ferrari ahead of Frenchman Romain Grosjean and his Lotus team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen.

Mexican Sergio Perez of Sauber was sixth ahead of German Nico Rosberg of Mercedes and, unexpectedly, defending champion and compatriot Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, who will line up eighth.

Seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher of Mercedes was ninth and Japanese Kamui Kobayashi was 10th in the second Sauber.

Both Vettel and Schumacher chose not to clock a competitive time in Q3 on a day when it was clear that many teams and drivers were more interested in preserving as many sets of tyres as possible in preference to claiming a strong grid position.

Red Bull’s defending world champion Sebastian Vettel topped the times in the final free practice session Saturday ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.  The 24-year-old German snatched top spot with a fastest lap of 1min 23.168 seconds in the final minute of a closely-contested session that gave few hints about the likely outcome of Saturday afternoon’s qualifying.

Red Bull will be seeking a third consecutive pole position in that contest with Vettel hoping to outpace Australian team-mate Mark Webber, who is looking to complete a hat-trick of Spanish poles. Vettel’s quick lap lifted him clear of second-placed Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado of Williams who had himself posted the fastest lap seconds earlier (1:23.336), having outpaced Japanese surprise package Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber.

Kobayashi was another driver who delivered a late surge as the teams switched to lower fuel loads and qualifying ‘spec’ in the final minutes of a session run in near-perfect conditions on a warm Spring day at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Webber was fourth fastest ahead of Kobayashi’s Sauber Mexican team-mate Sergio Perez and two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.

Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne was seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Briton Jenson Button of McLaren, who was the fastest man on Friday, with Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus ninth and German Nico Rosberg of Mercedes 10th.

Brazilian Felipe Massa of Ferrari was 11th while Briton Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion, was down in 16th place after his fast late run for McLaren was upset by traffic. Seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher was 17th for Mercedes.