MELBOURNE (Reuters) - McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Saturday ahead of team mate Jenson Button as world champion Sebastian Vettel was banished to the third row of the grid.
The Briton’s best lap of one minute 24.922 seconds put him just ahead of compatriot and fellow former world champion Button, who was second quickest in 1.25.074 and will make up an all-McLaren front row for the first time since 2009.
French driver Romain Grosjean sprung the biggest surprise by steering his Lotus to the third fastest lap and he will line up alongside the Mercedes of seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher on the second row.
Vettel, who claimed a record 15 pole positions last season including on his way to victory at Albert Park, was sixth fastest just behind his Red Bull team mate and Australian hope Mark Webber in fifth.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be back here and to get off to such a good start,” said Hamilton, who won at Albert Park from pole position in 2008.
“I think it’s my and Jenson’s first one-two in qualifying so it’s fantastic to start the season this way. It’s going to be incredibly tight and tense in the race.”
Button was equally delighted to lock up the front row for McLaren for the first time since Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen at the 2009 European Grand Prix.
“It is only the beginning but this is great first result for us on a Saturday and it looks like it’s going to be a very exciting season,” Button, who won in Melbourne in 2009 and 2010, said.
Vettel said it was too early for Red Bull, who took 18 poles in 19 races last year, to panic despite Sunday marking the first time they will not have a driver on the front row since the 2010 Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
“We are not starting at the front but we are not starting at the back either, so it’s far from disastrous and regarding the car, we know what we need to do,” he said.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg and Pastor Maldonado of Williams will be on the fourth row of the grid after finishing seventh and eighth quickest.
Ferrari’s problems continued with both cars failing to reach the final round of qualifying.
Former world champion Fernando Alonso spun off into the gravel in the second session while running fifth fastest and will line up 12th on the grid, while Brazialian Felipe Massa’s miserable run of form continued with the 16th fastest time.
Another former world champion, Kimi Raikkonen, made a mistake on his final flying lap and failed to get through the first phase of qualifying on his return to Formula One with Lotus after two years away.
The former Sauber, McLaren and Ferrari driver also suffered the embarrassment of being resoundingly outqualified by the inexperienced Grosjean, who has never raced at Albert Park and will be starting his eighth race on Sunday.
“It’s really nice to be back in Formula One and I enjoyed the time,” said the 26-year-old, who last raced for the then Renault team in 2009.
“I‘m very proud to be with those guys here and hope we can keep going that way all season long and then it will be a very nice story.”
The two HRT cars both failed to get inside 107 percent of the best time in the first session and therefore failed to qualify for the race for the second successive year.
Editing by Alastair Himmer