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Lewis Hamilton will start the Monaco Grand Prix from pole position ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg after saving his best for last in an intriguing qualifying session around the Principality

The Briton came into the deciding qualifier on the back foot having been out-paced by Rosberg in both Q1 and Q2, but was on marvellous form when it mattered in Q3, setting the benchmark initially with a 1min 15.304secs lap before stamping his authority with an improvement to 1min 15.098secs.

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Indeed, Rosberg had looked the man to beat coming into Q3, his lap of 1min 15.471secs proving four tenths faster than Hamilton in Q2. However, when it mattered, Rosberg's first flyer barely improved on that before a big lock up into turn one on his final flying effort assured his team-mate of what could be a critical advantage come race day.

Having hinted at a pole position challenge by topping FP3 for Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel found himself unable to get on terms with the Mercedes' but was still fast enough to qualify in a comfortable third.

Enjoying its strongest qualifying session of the season, Red Bull will get underway from fourth and fifth, Daniel Ricciardo looking committed en route to the second row, while Daniil Kvyat will ease some of the pressure off himself by heading up row three.

Paying the price for crashing in FP3, Kimi Raikkonen could only muster sixth position - six tenths off his team-mate -, ahead of Sergio Perez, who proved the unexpected surprise package of qualifying by not only qualifying seventh for Force India, but doing so with just one run.

Unable to make the most of their free practice form when it mattered, Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen get underway from eighth and tenth, the latter hampered by tyre temperatures, the two rookies split by the Lotus of Pastor Maldonado.

With the mid-field tightly grouped, the battle to reach Q3 threw up a few surprises, with both McLaren and - more unexpectedly - Williams finding themselves mired in the drop zone.

Indeed, McLaren had come into qualifying with high hopes of breaking into the top ten for the first time this season, but with Fernando Alonso's Honda engine crying enough before completing a lap and Jenson Button missing the cut by a mere tenth in 12th position, the team's wait rumbles on to the next event in Canada.

Even so, McLaren still fared better than Williams, whose lacklustre free practice form proved true as neither Felipe Massa nor Valtteri Bottas got the super soft tyre working on their fast laps. Though he could only manage 14th, Massa still enjoyed better fortune than Bottas, who remarkably failed to make it beyond Q1 at all, the Finn - currently fifth in the standings - starting a lowly 17th.

Elsewhere, Romain Grosjean missed the cut by eight thousandths of a second in 11th, but will start 16th by virtue of his five place grid penalty for a gearbox change, while Nico Hulkenberg was overshadowed by his team-mate to qualify in 13th pending penalties.

Having struggled to break into the top 15 during free practice, both Saubers joined Bottas in failing to progress beyond Q1, with Felipe Nasr well adrift in 16th position, while Marcus Ericsson - having also incurred the wrath of a frustrated Lewis Hamilton when he blocked him through Casino - landed in 18th.

Behind them, the Manor pair bring up the rear of the grid, Will Stevens leading Roberto Merhi, both more than two seconds adrift of Ericsson ahead.