The defending double world champion, who had failed to impress in qualifying for 2012’s first three races, sealed the 31st pole position of his Formula 1 career with a time of one minute 32.422 seconds at Sakhir, ahead of Hamilton and Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.
“It feels great, which I owe to the team,” said Vettel. “It’s not been an easy start to the season, but what we have done here is what we expect from ourselves.
“We’ve been busy working on the car, trying to find the right solution, with the boys hardly getting any sleep over the last four race weekends.
“They’ve certainly not had much here, but the car is much better and it’s great to have just beaten Lewis for pole.”
Vettel’s team-mate Webber, who will start third on Sunday, admitted he was surprised by his team’s performance in qualifying.
“In the end we’re satisfied to be towards the front,” he said. “There have previously been some big gaps to the opposition, so it’s pretty surprising to be as competitive as we are on a track that does not play to our strengths.
“But we’re at the front, I’m pleased for the guys, and we can have a good race from there.”
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 1min 32.422secs
2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) McLaren 1:32.520
3 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:32.637
4 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren 1:32.711
5 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:32.821
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:32.912
7 Romain Grosjean (Swi) Lotus F1 Team 1:33.008
8 Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari 1:33.394
9 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari No Time
10 Paul di Resta (Gbr) Force India No Time
11 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus F1 Team 1:33.789
12 Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber-Ferrari 1:33.806
13 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:33.807
14 Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1:33.912
15 Bruno Senna (Bra) Williams 1:34.017
16 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Caterham 1:36.132
17 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes GP 1:34.865
18 Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:35.014
19 Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Caterham 1:35.823
20 Charles Pic (Fra) Marussia 1:37.683
21 Pedro de la Rosa (Spa) HRT-F1 1:37.883
22 Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams No Time*
23 Timo Glock (Ger) Marussia 1:37.905
24 Narain Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT-F1 1:38.314
* Maldonado handed five-place penalty for gearbox change
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge