He was .313 seconds ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and about 1 second faster than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
“They were just way too fast,” Verstappen said of Mercedes. “You just have to accept that and do the best you can.”
Charles Leclerc gave Ferrari a small boost with fourth ahead of Lando Norris, who could face a grid penalty after failing to slow down under a yellow flag in the second part of qualifying when Hamilton made a rare mistake. He span his car and sent gravel spraying, bringing the session to a brief halt after Bottas had set the quickest time.
Vettel, who had problems with understeering and almost went off the track toward the end of Q3, was only 10th fastest in qualifying.
Red Bull’s Alexander Albon finished 12th ahead of Racing Point’s last-minute replacement Nico Hulkenberg. He lost his seat in F1 this year, and is driving because Sergio Perez tested positive for the coronavirus following a trip back to his native Mexico after his mother had an accident.
Nicolas Latifi’s Williams span off the track near the end of Q1, the latest incident in the Canadian driver’s difficult start in F1.
“It’s just a driver error, no excuses,” he said.
Kimi Raikkonen and Kevin Magnussen were also among the five drivers eliminated from Q1.