Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took pole position for the Australian Grand Prix ahead of the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
Verstappen beat Russell by 0.236 seconds as Mercedes had their best qualifying of the season. Hamilton was 0.136secs further adrift in third.
Fernando Alonso was fourth in the Aston Martin ahead of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari.
Sergio Perez crashed the second Red Bull on his first lap of qualifying and will start the race at the back.
It is a major blow to the Mexican, who is just one point behind Verstappen in the championship after his victory in the last race in Saudi Arabia and who started the weekend saying he had confidence he had Red Bull’s backing to challenge his team-mate.
Perez insisted there was a problem with the car after a day characterised by similar errors caused by locking his wheels during braking but said he “trusts totally with my team we will be able to fix the issue”.
Lance Stroll was fifth for Aston, ahead of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari and the impressive Williams of Alex Albon.
Alpine’s Pierre Gasly and the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10. McLaren’s difficult start to the season continued with Lando Norris in 13th place.
Albon and Hulkenberg produced eye-catching performances to be in the top 10 in their normally uncompetitive cars but it was the Mercedes that produced the surprise of qualifying.
Mercedes spring a surprise
Verstappen pulled out a blinder of a lap on his final run and when Alonso went second in the Aston Martin with a lap 0.407secs off the world champion, the front of the grid seemed set given Ferrari’s lack of pace this weekend.
But first Russell popped up between Verstappen and Alonso and then Hamilton snuck in there as well.
“We weren’t expecting that, for sure,” said Russell, who has out-qualified Hamilton three times in a row so far this season.
“Wow. What session for us. The car felt alive. The lap was right on the limit.
“I have to be honest – I was a little disappointed we didn’t get pole. It’s funny how your expectations change in this business. Yesterday I would have been happy with fifth, but the car came alive.
“Excited for tomorrow. It’s going to be tough against Max but we will give it the best go.”
Hamilton added: “I am so happy with this. This is totally unexpected. To be up on the two front rows is honestly a dream for us.
“We are all working as hard as we can and to be this close to the Red Bull is incredible. I hope tomorrow we can give them a bit of a run for their money.”
Verstappen admitted Red Bull had struggled to get the optimum out of their car this weekend, which had been a scrappy one up to qualifying.
“The last lap was pretty good,” Verstappen said. “Until then the whole weekend it has been difficult to get the tyres in the right window and it was pretty tricky to find the grip and nail it on one lap.
“But it all came right in qualifying. I’m pretty happy with that.”
A bit of Hamilton-Alonso needle
In his post-race interviews, Hamilton seemed to take the opportunity to have a subtle dig at his old rival Alonso, who he pipped with his final lap after the Aston Martin had impressed all weekend.
Alonso said in an interview with French newspaper this weekend that it was clear now Hamilton no longer had the best car that he “had weaknesses”.
And as he waved to the crowd, Hamilton said he hoped to have a first corner similar to the one he had in 2007 on his debut. “Does anyone remember that,” he asked?
It was an apparent reference to him famously passing his then-McLaren team-mate Alonso around the outside of Turn One in his very first grand prix, the first dramatic moment in a season that developed into one of the most tumultuous in F1 history.