Lewis Hamilton claimed the first pole of position of the 2019 Formula 1 world championship - his eighth career pole in Australia since 2008, and his sixth consecutive success in qualifying at Melbourne.
He will start the race alongside his Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas on the grid for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix, with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel relegated to third alongside Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
The session saw surprise early Q1 exits for Racing Point's Lance Stroll and Red Bull's Pierre Gasly, while Renault failed to get either Nico Hulkenberg or Daniel Ricciardo into the final round. But there was notable success for McLaren's Lando Norris who made it into Q3 on his F1 début.
Q1:Leclerc makes an immediate mark, Gasly falls at first hurdle
With typically sunny and hot conditions greeting the drivers for their first qualifying session of the season, McLaren's Lando Norris and Williams Robert Kubica were the first to head out on soft compound tyres onto the Albert Park Circuit. Norris set the opening time with a modest 1:24.654s, slower than he had managed in final practice two hours earlier.
Sebastian Vettel needed only a set of mediums to take control of the timings, but it wasn't a vintage effort and was soon bettered by Alfa Romeo pair Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi before Charles Leclerc was able to restore Ferrari to the top with a 1:23.326s.
Mercedes were now on track, and Lewis Hamilton breezed to the front with a 1122.681s which was immediately improved upon by his team mate Valtteri Bottas to the tune of 0.023s. Red Bull's Max Verstappen shrugged aside his overnight chassis change to take up third place ahead of Vettel with Sergio Perez unveiling Racing Point's unexpectedly swift form to go fifth ahead of Haas' Romain Grosjean and Renault's Nico Hulkenberg.
Grosjeans' team mate Kevin Magnussen was at the other end of the timing screens and struggling to move out of the elimination zone, as was Lance Stroll in the second Racing Point. It was arguably less of a surprise to see Toro Rosso new boy Alex Albon near the bottom, and sadly the presence of Williams pair George Russell and Robert Kubica over a second slower than the rest was all-too-expected.
But nothing was certain until the chequered flag came out. A final flurry of flying laps on soft compound tyres shook things up, with Leclerc ending up holding the top spot from Hamilton and Bottas by 0.026s, and Giovinazzi up to fourth ahead of Toro Rosso returnee Daniil Kvyat. Magnussen was also able to find a more representative time to go sixth ahead of Hulkenberg, with Norris an encouraging eighth one place in front of an impressive new effort from Albon that put the Toro Rosso rookie ahead of Verstappen, Vettel and Ricciardo.
First among those losing out in this last minute lottery of times was Stroll, but it was a shock to see Red Bull's Pierre Gasly and McLaren's Carlos Sainz - held up by yellow flags and slow traffic on his final run - also on the casualty list. They were duly consigned to the sidelines for the rest of qualifying along with the two inert Williams entries who as a result will start Sunday's race from the back row of the grid.
Q2: Hamilton goes top as Renault fail to make the grade
The reduced field of 15 cars was soon back to work out on track for the second round of qualifying, with Ferrari and Mercedes wasting no time immediately bolting on sets of sort tyres.
An untidy first run from Hamilton clocked in at 1:21.861s, but this was soon displaced by Leclerc and then by a cleaner lap from Bottas. Vettel was half a tenth slower than Hamilton for fourth place, putting him initially ahead of Magnussen and Renault pair Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo.
Meanwhile Toro Rosso duo Kvyat and Albon soon found themselves pushed out of the top ten by better runs for Perez and Grosjean, before Verstappen made his mark by shooting up to second place with his first flying run, albeit still nearly half a second slower than Bottas. At the bottom of the timings and at risk of elimination were Giovinazzi and Norris, the Italian having flirted with the gravel in turn 12 during his run.
After the usual mid-session pause while drivers made adjustments and bolted on new soft tyres, it was time for the final push. The street circuit was improving all the time, which meant that of the front runners only Leclerc felt confident enough to stay tucked up in the garage and risk getting caught out in the last seconds of Q2.
Hamilton took the opportunity to put right the missteps of his earlier run by going top with a time of 1:21.014s ahead of Bottas and Verstappen, while Leclerc's earlier time remained good enough for fourth ahead of Grosjean, Vettel (who briefly ran off at turn 12), Magnussen and Raikkonen. Lando Norris pulled out something genuinely special to secure advancement with the ninth fastest time of the round ahead of Perez.
But there was gloom at Renault, with both Hulkenberg and Ricciardo unexpectedly ending up on the wrong side of the cut and hence eliminated along with Albon (complaining of traffic), Giovinazzi and Kvyat.
Q3: Hamilton and Bottas prove Mercedes advantage over the rest of the field
The tactical fun and games of Q1 and Q2 dispensed with, it was finally time for a simple flat-out speed trial between the top ten cars - and the first chance of 2019 to see how the top teams really compare, head-to-head.
Magnussen and Grosjean were first out, followed by Hamilton and Bottas. The Briton was complaining of struggling with his right-front brake, clattering the kerb at turn 1 and as a result he was almost half a second slower than Bottas' initial searing benchmark of 1:20.598s.
Vettel and Leclerc were next quickest, putting them ahead of Verstappen who was fifth after a slight fumble at turn 14. The two Haas drivers were quicker than Norris, while Raikkonen and Perez held back and waited in the garage banking on do-or-due single efforts at the end of the session.
That wasn't long in coming, with the Silver Arrows soon back out on track and sandwiching Norris' orange McLaren as they prepared for their hot laps. Hamilton found the extra speed he needed to claim provisional pole with a lap of 1:20.486s, with Bottas a little over a tenth back.
The results confirmed that the big advantage Mercedes had held over Ferrari in Friday's practice sessions was not a matter of 'sandbagging ' after all, with Vettel in third place and a full seven tenths slower than Hamilton. Verstappen will start alongside the Ferrari on the second row on Sunday.
Leclerc clinched fifth place in his first outing in Ferrari colours, ahead of Haas pair Grosjean and Magnussen who were looking solidly efficient but nonetheless given a strong challenge from Norris in eighth. Raikkonen's solo run was only good enough for ninth, well ahead of Perez.