Sebastian Vettel started his World Championship defense in strong form by dominating qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver was comfortably quickest in Q1 and Q2, then 0.8sec ahead of the rest of the field after the first Q3 runs were complete. That 1m23.529s effort was sufficient to secure the 16th pole of Vettel's Formula 1 career, though he ended the session with a 1m23.6s for good measure – also quicker than anyone else could manage.
Lewis Hamilton denied Red Bull a front row sweep by getting his McLaren up to second in the final moments, pushing Mark Webber back to third.
Jenson Button completed the top four in the second McLaren, ahead of Fernando Alonso in the best of the Ferraris. His teammate Felipe Massa was only eighth after a troubled session that saw him only just make it out of Q1, then spin on his out-lap at the end of Q3.
Vitaly Petrov took a superb sixth for Renault, while the Mercedes resurgence was not as dramatic as the final test had indicated. Nico Rosberg was seventh and Michael Schumacher missed out on a Q3 slot by the agonising margin of 0.089sec after a poor run to his final Q2 lap.
Sauber and Toro Rosso showed their winter improvements were real as Kamui Kobayashi and Sebastien Buemi completed the top 10, with their teammates Jaime Alguersuari and Sergio Perez not far off Q3 pace in 12th and 13th.
Force India's Paul di Resta and Williams's Pastor Maldonado will start their first grands prix from 14th and 15th respectively, ahead of their team-mates after mistakes by Adrian Sutil and Rubens Barrichello. Sutil miraculously avoided the wall in a spectacular spin out of the final corner, triggered when he activated his wing flap while hitting the kerb, unsettling the Force India.
Barrichello's error was more embarrassing: he touched the grass under braking for Turn 3 and spun into the gravel before he could set a Q2 time. Fellow veteran Nick Heidfeld's season also got off to a poor start. He was unable to get the Renault out of Q1 and will start 18th.
Last year's new teams have so far failed to show any progress, with Lotus back in its 2010 position behind the rest of the field, but ahead of the Virgins, which were at least quick enough to make the 107 percent cut today. The Hispanias were not: In Q1, the 107% time was 1:31.266, with Liuzzi managing just a 1:32.978 lap and Karthikeyan setting a 1:34.293 best.
HRT lodged a request with the FIA to be allowed to take part because of "exceptional circumstances." Following deliberation by the stewards on Saturday night, the FIA decided not to allow the cars in.
• Click here for a list of reports from all the teams following qualifying.
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m23.529s + 0.778s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.307s + 0.866s
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m24.395s + 1.250s
4. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.779s + 1.445s
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m24.974s + 1.718s
6. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m25.247s + 1.892s
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.421s + 2.070s
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m25.599s + 2.097s
9. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m25.626s + 3.537s
10. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.066s + 2.442s
Q2 cut-off time: 1m25.882s
11. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m25.971s
12. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m26.103s
13. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.108s
14. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m26.739s
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m26.768s
16. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m31.407s
17. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth
Q3 cut-off time: 1m27.222s
18. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m27.239s
19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m29.254s
20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m29.342s
21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m29.858s
22. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m30.822s
23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m32.978s
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m34.2932
107% time: 1m31.266s