Lewis Hamilton pipped Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to pole position at the season-opening Australian GP.
Hamilton was behind the Finn going into the final runs in qualifying but edged ahead by 0.112 seconds to take his sixth consecutive pole at Albert Park.
Hamilton was a massive 0.704secs quicker than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in third, just ahead of new Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
British rookie Lando Norris took a superb eighth on his debut for McLaren.
And George Russell, the other British rookie, was 19th, well ahead of his Williams team-mate Robert Kubica.
Are we surprised?
Hamilton has dominated the weekend, fastest in all practice sessions and in two of the three qualifying sessions – missing out only in the first part of qualifying when he did not do a second run and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who did, ended up fastest.
“I’m shaking it was so close out there,” Hamilton said. “From testing we had no idea where we would be. We were hoping to be where we are. Valtteri did an exceptional job. It was very close.”
Bottas said: “The first lap was very nice, I really enjoyed that. Not quite enough for pole unfortunately, but look forward to tomorrow.”
Vettel, whose Ferrari team had looked quicker than Mercedes in pre-season testing, said: “The car feels all right. There is not anything wrong.”
Vettel sounded non-plussed but actually the margin between him and Hamilton is very similar to what it was last year in Australia – and Ferrari went on to win the race after a Mercedes strategy error, and again in Bahrain two weeks later and spent much of the year with a car at least as fast as the Mercedes.
Hamilton looked stupendously quick through Turn One on his first lap in the final session but a wobble lost him time and Bottas was quicker by half a second.
But Hamilton produced a much tidier lap on his second run and with Bottas not improving it was enough to turn the tables.
Ferrari should have locked out the second row, but Leclerc, making his debut for Ferrari, made an error on his final lap and that allowed Verstappen to edge ahead into fourth.
Leclerc said: “I’m not happy with myself. I didn’t do the job when I had to in Q3. The potential to be top there was there. Not top two. I did a mistake in my last lap and it’s life. It happens and I will work from there.”
More to follow