Lewis Hamilton & Nico Rosberg
Nico Rosberg and Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton locked up the front row at the Spanish Grand Prix. Reuters

Mercedes secured their third straight pole position and Nico Rosberg his second straight as the team proved the class of the field in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix. The challenge now for Mercedes is to turn their impressive single-lap pace into a performance over the course of a race on Sunday.

Rosberg looked strong throughout qualifying and claimed pole by just over a quarter of a second from his teammate Hamilton, with championship leader Sebastian Vettel a further tenth of a second back in his Red Bull.

Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen qualified fourth ahead of the Ferrari duo of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, although the Brazilian was handed a three-place grid penalty for having been adjudged to have blocked Mark Webber in Q2.

That means that Webber moves up a place to seventh on the grid, one spot behind the second Lotus of Romain Grosjean.

In 11 of the previous 12 years the Spanish Grand Prix has been won by the car on pole position, although Mercedes face a tough task to maintain that strong record. The Silver Arrows have struggled badly with tire wear during races and even team principal Ross Brawn sounded less than confident about Mercedes’ chances of turning their first qualifying one-two since returning as a fully-fledge team three years ago into a victory.

“I don't think we will be the strongest team in the race but we are starting from the best possible position,” he said, according to the Formula One website. “Now we need to get through the first stint, which will certainly be interesting on the option tire, and then see how our race develops.”

Rosberg, though, is determined to do everything he can to take the checkered flag.

“We know that this is only half of the job completed and have the painful memory of what happened in Bahrain to prove that,” he explained. “We've worked very hard on our race pace but this track is tough for the tires, particularly with graining. So it will be a big challenge tomorrow and our goal is to make the most of the opportunity we have from starting at the front and get a strong result for the team.”

Sergio Perez will start eighth on the grid ahead of Massa and Force India’s Paul di Resta, but it was another disappointing day for McLaren. Despite an upgrade since the last race in Bahrain three weeks ago, Jenson Button failed to make it into the final qualifying run for the first time this season and will start in 14th position.

It was an even worse session for Williams, though, who failed to get either Pastor Maldonado or Valtteri Bottas past the first knock-out session.

Where to watch: The Formula One Spanish Grand Prix will get underway at 8 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the NBC Sports Network, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.