Motorists reeling from skyhigh petrol prices were digesting another record profits haul from oil giant BP yesterday - equivalent to £1.3 million an hour.

The contrast in the impact of soaring oil prices was brought home by BP's first quarter profits of £2.87 billion as drivers paid up to 85.92p a litre for unleaded petrol - 4p higher than a month ago.

BP's surging profits were driven by returns in exploration and production, with the customer-facing marketing division suffering from lower margins after pump prices failed to keep up with the increase in oil costs.

Two months ago BP and rival Shell stoked calls for a windfall tax after reporting annual surpluses of £8.7 billion and £9.3 billion respectively. Both companies have rejected claims of profiteering at the expense of motorists, pointing out that they make little money out of forecourt sales.

BP's 29 per cent rise in first quarter profits leave it on course for another bumper haul after benefiting from average Brent crude prices of $47.62 a barrel in the period, compared with $32.03 in 2004.

As a result, profits from its exploration and production division stood at £3.4 billion, a gain of 53 per cent on a year earlier.

Chief executive Lord Browne said the strong start to 2005 reflected investments in recent years, although he predicted a cooling in the global trends for oil in the months ahead.

He added: "World economic growth was sustained into the first quarter of 2005 across all regions. The current outlook is for some moderation of global growth towards trend rates through 2005."

The strong cash flows enabled BP to return cash to shareholders as it spent £1.05 billion on buying 193 million of its shares in the quarter.

Meanwhile, production of 4.1 million barrels of oil equivalent a day was broadly similar to the previous quarter as new profit centres and its new TNK-BP joint venture in Russia helped offset declines in more established locations.