By Alan Baldwin
MANAMA (Reuters) - Nico Rosberg planted his Mercedes on pole position for the floodlit Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday after a last-lap error cost team mate Lewis Hamilton his chance of a qualifying hat-trick.
Rosberg, the Formula One championship leader, had been in Hamilton's shadow throughout practice but struck when it mattered to secure his first pole since Monaco last May with a best lap of one minute 33.185 seconds.
Hamilton, who won in Malaysia last weekend and was chasing his third successive pole, had to settle for second at the Sakhir circuit.
"I have good memories of this track, winning the GP2 championship and starting my first race in F1. I enjoy coming here and again today, it's suited me," said Rosberg, who won the season-opener in Australia.
"It's a different challenge awaiting us for the race. Tyre degradation may be the main problem and difficulty but I'm confident," added the German of his fifth career pole.
"I had some good runs yesterday on high fuel so I'm confident that I can stay ahead in tomorrow's race."
Hamilton had been quickest in all three practice sessions, with Rosberg second, but was trailing his team mate as he prepared for his final lap.
He overcooked it, running wide, and fixing the front row there and then.
"You can't always get it right and congratulations to Nico," said the 2008 champion. "He did a great job this weekend, he's been improving and picking up his pace. He had a really good lap at the end there.
"I made a mistake on my last lap, locked up and went straight on but generally I'm happy. I'm really proud of the team, for us to continue to keep moving forward and progressing as we are."
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was third fastest for Red Bull but carries a 10-place grid penalty from Malaysia, which will mean Finland's Valtteri Bottas moving up to take the slot for Mercedes-powered Williams.
"I'm really pleased with the performance. At the moment it's the best anyone else can do besides the two guys alongside me," said Ricciardo in a post-qualifying news conference.
Mexican Sergio Perez, who did not start in Malaysia due to a software glitch, will join him on the second row in his Mercedes-powered Force India.
Red Bull's world champion Sebastian Vettel qualified 11th, but will start 10th, after failing to make the final phase of qualifying for the second time in three races and complaining about the gear shifts.
"They (Mercedes) are out of reach. This track suits them here," the German told BBC television. "Hopefully we can do a good job...and rescue some points this weekend.
"Things are going on in the background which haven't helped and we haven't done many laps here," he added cryptically.
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen qualified sixth, but moves up to fifth, with McLaren's Jenson Button alongside and Brazilian Felipe Massa's Williams sharing the fourth row with McLaren's Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso qualified 10th.
Sunday's race will be the 10th edition of the Bahrain Grand Prix and is being held in a day-to-night format for the first time.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)