Lewis Hamilton kicked off his 2012 season with a perfect result by achieving his twentieth career pole position for the Australian Grand Prix, ahead of McLaren team-mate Jenson Button and the impressive Romain Grosjean in the Lotus.
Hamilton’s single flying lap of one minute, 24.922 seconds was enough to edge him ahead of his rivals, with a margin of seven tenths of a second.
Romain Grosjean took a spectacular third for Lotus on his Formula One return. Such a remarkable performance from the GP2 champion when compared to his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who was knocked out in Q1.
Michael Schumacher achieved his best qualifying result for Mercedes in fourth.
As for the Red Bulls, home crowd favourite Mark Webber could only manage fifth out-qualifying defending world champion Sebastian Vettel.
This is quite a setback for the championship-winning team with only a row three start. For Vettel, to start in sixth is a disappointing result.
Further back, Ferrari’s fears of an awful start to the 2012 season came true as neither of its cars reached the top ten.
While Raikkonen’s Formula One comeback got off to a surprisingly bad start as he was eliminated in Q1. The Iceman will start in P18.
Hamilton looked assured of pole after his first Q3 run, and although his rivals closed in, none could match his lap time.
Instead they fought over second position, which changed hands in quick succession in the closing moments as Webber – who chose to do just a single Q3 run – Schumacher, Grosjean and finally Button taking turns to close in on Hamilton.
Vettel never looked like being a pole contender and his sixth place was his worst qualifying result since he took the same position at Monza back in 2010.
Mercedes had appeared like a pole challenger as it led the way in Q2, but Schumacher and team-mate Nico Rosberg had to be content with fourth and seventh respectively.
Neither Ferrari got beyond Q2. Fernando Alonso spun into the Turn 1 gravel, causing a brief red flag. Fifth at the time, the Spaniard could only furiously watch as others demoted him down to P12.
But that was still better than Felipe Massa could manage. The Brazilian was a second off his Scuderia team-mate in both Q1 and Q2, despite having more laps than the sidelined Alonso. Massa ended up P16.
Raikkonen’s disastrous first qualifying session back in the sport was the biggest story. The Finn made a mistake on his final Q1 run, backed off to go for another attempt, only to find that he ran out of time… Kimi will line up in P18 for Lotus.
At the tail end of the Q3 field, Pastor Maldonado gave Williams huge encouragement after its difficult 2011 season with eighth position, with Nico Hulkenberg claimed ninth for Force India in his first race back after a year as a reserve driver at the team.
Daniel Ricciardo made sure that both Formula One’s Australians will start from the top ten as he got his Toro Rosso into the pole shoot-out, although he did not complete a flying lap in Q3.
Jean-Eric Vergne only just missed joining his team-mate in Q3, lapping a tenth slower as he secured P11 for his maiden Grand Prix start.
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi set a surprise fastest time in Q1, but could not repeat that performance and qualified only P13. Team-mate Sergio Perez was unable to set a time in Q2 and will take a five-place grid penalty for changing the gearbox.
Bruno Senna and Paul di Resta were outperformed by their Q3-bound team-mates and were only P14 and P15.
While at the back of the grid, Caterham was some way off Q2 pace but clearly ahead of Marussia. As for HRT, both cars failed to make the 107 per cent cut-off time, with Narain Karthikeyan also blocking Alonso during qualifying.
So a McLaren one-two in Melbourne. Not only is the MP4-27 beautiful, the Mercedes-powered car is fast. Can Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button score that first win on Sunday? It looks likely judging by the speed advantage over Red Bull.
Qualifying positions from Albert Park:
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.922s
2. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m25.074s
3. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m25.302s
4. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m25.336s
5. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m25.651s
6. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m25.668s
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.686s
8. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m25.908s
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m26.451s
10. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari No time
11. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m26.429s
12. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m26.494s
13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.590s
14. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m26.663s
15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m27.086s
16. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m27.497s
17. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m27.758s
18. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m28.679s
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m29.018s
20. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m30.923s
21. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m31.670s
22. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari No time*
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m33.495s
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m33.643s
107 per cent time: 1m32.214s
*Five-place grid penalty for changing gearbox