Coming into qualifying seemingly on the back foot having suffered set-up issues on his Mercedes compared with championship leading team-mate Rosberg through practice, Hamilton nonetheless hinted at his apparent time in hand when he unleashed a rapid improvement in Q2, some six tenths up on the competition.
Though an error on his first Q3 effort would shift the onus onto his second and final effort, an aggressive lap by the defending champion would see him stop the clock at 1min 22.000, more than two tenths clear of Rosberg, who starts alongside him on the front row.
With Ferrari’s anticipated challenge for pole failing to materialise as Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen struggled to string together error-free laps, it was Red Bull Racing that would instead emerge as Mercedes’ unexpected closest challengers.
With Max Verstappen briefly holding down second fastest after the first runs, a sparkling lap by Daniel Ricciardo soon after would instead see him snatch an impressive third place start, though Dutchman starts his first race in Red Bull colours a highly creditable fourth too.
Raikkonen begins ahead of Vettel on an all-Ferrari third row, ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz in the best placed Williams and Toro Rosso cars. Rounding out the top ten, Sergio Perez begins ninth for Force India, while Fernando Alonso gave McLaren-Honda its first Q3 appearance since 2014 in tenth.
As has been the case in 2016 so far, Q2 proved closely-contested with a tightly-packed midfield, with late improvements counting against Nico Hulkenberg – bumped down by team-mate Perez – and Jenson Button in 11th and 12th positions, while Daniil Kvyat starts 13th in his first race back with Toro Rosso.
Romain Grosjean, meanwhile, maintains his 100 per cent qualifying record over Esteban Gutierrez, the Haas pair in 14th and 16th, with Renault’s Kevin Magnussen splitting them in 15th.
Starting from his worst grid position since the 2014 Russian Grand Prix, Felipe Massa was a surprise casualty in Q1, the Brazilian falling victim to what Williams referred to as a ‘timing error’ by not getting him out in time to complete his final flyer. As a result, he was bumped down the order as others improved, leaving him 18th.
He was joined in the drop zone by Jolyon Palmer in 17th, the Renault failing to make it out of Q1 for the third time this year, while Marcus Ericsson, Felipe Nasr, Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto brought up the rear for Sauber and Manor.