Lewis Hamilton delivered an emphatic performance to stave off a resurgent Ferrari and claim pole position for Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Sebastian Vettel, who could very well prove to be Hamilton's closest challenger this year, will line up alongside the Mercedes driver in a tantalising front row, with Valtteri Bottas - the Finn who has replaced reigning champion Nico Rosberg - in third.
Kimi Raikkonen was a distant fourth, while home favourite Daniel Ricciardo dramatically crashed out of qualifying after he lost control of his Red Bull and smashed into the tyre barrier.
The Formula One rulebook has a new look to it this season in a bid to spice up the show and disturb the established order dominated by Mercedes for the past three seasons.
The cars are faster, wider and appear more aggressive, but while Ferrari, who failed to register a single victory last season, are certainly closer to Mercedes, there is simply no stopping Hamilton when he is in this kind of mood.
The 32-year-old, who is bidding to become the first British driver to win a quartet of titles, was 0.268 seconds faster than Vettel after recording the fastest lap ever seen in these parts. Bottas was marginally slower than the Ferrari man.
It marked Hamilton's 62nd career pole - three behind Ayrton Senna and six adrift of Michael Schumacher in the all-time list.
The home crowd had hoped Ricciardo would be in the mix, too, but he crashed at turn 14 and failed to post a time in the final phase. It means he starts 10th, with Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen fifth.
McLaren arrived in Australia on the back of an awful winter of testing plagued by a slow and unreliable Honda engine. There were real concerns that the British team would be propping up the grid here, so they will take some encouragement from Fernando Alonso making it out of Q1. He will line up 14th on Sunday.
"The lap was good," Alonso said. "I cannot do more than this."
Stoffel Vandoorne, the Belgian who has replaced Jenson Button at McLaren this season, was one second slower than his team-mate in 18th.
Italian youngster Antonio Giovinazzi has been handed his grand prix debut at the 11th hour by Sauber after Pascal Wehrlein withdrew following injuries he sustained at the exhibition Race of Champions event in Miami in January.
Wehrlein was given the all-clear by the medical arm of the sport's governing body on Thursday, but told his Sauber team he did not feel fit enough to race in this new era of the sport in which the cars are a greater physical challenge.
Given his lack of preparation Giovinazzi delivered a commendable display, narrowly missing out on progression through to the second phase of qualifying. He will start 16th.
Lance Stroll, whose motor racing career has been bankrolled by his fashion billionaire father Lawrence Stroll, is another to make his debut this weekend.
Stroll, 18, who will become the second youngest driver to start a Formula One race tomorrow, crashed in final practice, but, while his Williams team managed to repair his car in time for qualifying, he could manage only 19th, more than two seconds adrift of his team-mate Felipe Massa. He will also be demoted to last after his team were forced to replace his gearbox following his practice crash.
His penalty promotes Jolyon Palmer to last but one. The Briton has endured a troubled weekend - he crashed out of practice yesterday - and posted the slowest time in qualifying, too, an eye-watering 3.3 seconds off his new Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.
Final positions after qualifying:
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:22.188secs
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:22.456
3 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:22.481
4 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:23.033
5 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:23.485
6 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:24.074
7 Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams 1:24.443
8 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:24.487
9 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:24.512
10 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull No Time
11 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 1:25.081
12 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 1:25.091
13 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 1:25.425
14 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 1:25.568
15 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber-Ferrari 1:26.465
16 Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Sauber-Ferrari 1:26.419
17 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:26.847
18 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 1:26.858
19 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 1:27.143
20 Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault 1:28.244
Note: Lance Stroll has a five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change after third practice.
Grid positions for the Australian Grand Prix
Formula 1 is back in session and we will see tomorrow if Lewis Hamilton will continue Mercedes' dominance at Albert Park.
Here is where every driver will start the 2017 season on the grid.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 25, 2017
Daniel Ricciardo shares his disappointment after crashing out.
"I'm physically OK but emotionally a bit disappointed. At least [the crash] didn't happen in Q1.
"We made a big step forwards in Q2 but the lap in Q3 was a bit messy and then the Turn 13 caught me out."
Sebastian Vettel is back on the front row
The Ferrari driver said: "We are working well as a team. I wasn't entirely happy with my final lap and tomorrow I hope we can do something.
"We are fired up about tomorrow's race. The confidence was there from Testing and it has been a big winter for us."
Prior to this weekend Lewis Hamilton called the Italian team the "favourites". Could he be right?
Lewis Hamiton faces the media
Following his 62nd pole, the Briton said: "It's been a fantastic weekend so far. I'm just incredibly proud of my team."
Australian Grand Prix: Qualifying Results
It is a Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel front row after the Briton clocks a lap of 1:22.188, two tenths of a second ahead of the German driver.
And it is also a Mercedes and Ferrari second row with Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 25, 2017
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 25, 2017
With Lewis Hamilton on provisional pole, Sebastian Vettel second and Valtteri Bottas third we have a red flag after local boy Daniel Ricciardo crashes with eight minutes left. He goes off the track at turn 14 in what may be another disappointing weekend for the Red Bull driver.
But most importantly, he is safe and catches a lift on a motorbike back to the paddock.
Who will be on the front of the grid?
We are into the final qualifying session ad Valtteri Bottas looks to get his first ever pole position.
Gone but not forgotten
He may not be racing anymore but current champion Nico Rosberg is paying attention.
— Nico Rosberg (@nico_rosberg) March 25, 2017
The final ten...
In a few moments we will see the final ten fight it out for pole position. Can Lewis Hamilton get ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas who ended Q2 ahead of the three-time Champion.
Qualifying 2 is over
At the end of Q2 Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenbenberg, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon and Marcus Ericsson are out of the session.
It has not been a good weekend for Perez.
It looks like there could be rain in Melbourne...
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) March 25, 2017
As we know the bottom five cars' qualifying session has ended so Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Vandoorne, Stroll and Palmer can all go and enjoy the rest of their day.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 25, 2017
Here's the provisional classification for the first qualifying session of 2017.
First day nerves
Unfortunately everyone seems to be having technical difficulties today so we have to be patient as we wait for more data.
If you need something to focus on, you can read a little preview and challenge my podium predictions.
Lewis Hamilton leads the cars as we head into the last minutes of Q1 with Kimi Raikkonen in second and Valtteri Bottas in third. Sergio Perez' Force India is fourth and Sebastian Vettel is fifth.
The first driver out...
McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne was the first man out on track, and he will be hoping he has something to celebrate when he turns 25 tomorrow.
Lance Stroll will start the season with a five-place grid penalty after Williams were forced to change his gearbox.
Who will be first out?
After months of rule changes, retirements and movements we are awaiting the first car out on the track.
To refresh your memory, we will lose five cars in Q1 and Q2 before the final ten will fight it out in Q3 for that coveted pole position.
Pretty in pink
I must admit that I am a fan of Force India's new colour palette...
— Sahara Force India (@ForceIndiaF1) March 25, 2017
We are moments away
After several years of domination, will this be the season that we get competitive Formula 1 back?
Or will Mercedes continue to control the sport?
Get in touch and if you keep it clear, we may share your comment.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ten minutes to go
With ten minutes to go it's the perfect time to swot up on Formula 1 new boys Haas, courtesy of our F1 guru, Oliver Brown.
Who will be on pole?
Let us know who you think will grab pole position with 15 minutes to go.
Can Lewis Hamilton grab pole position?
The Mercedes driver ended Practice 3 in third behind Sebastian Vettel and his new teammate Valtteri Bottas. The three-time champion will be keen to start the season on the front row.
Lewis Hamilton had looked like he was favourite for pole all weekend until the Ferrari's found their pace and Sebastian Vettel set the fastest lap ever seen in Melbourne to finish the final session 0.479s ahead of Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Melbourne's Albert Park hosts the first race of the 2017 calendar.
My name is Natasha Henry and I will be keeping you up-to-date with everything that happens in Melbourne this weekend.
Qualifying starts at 06:00 BST, so you have time to get a coffee and get comfortable before the real action starts.
Formula 1 is back!
Good morning racing fans.
Formula 1 is back and we start in Australia at the traditionally eventful Albert Park.
Lewis Hamilton hailed the perfect start to his new Formula One season after he completed a dominant practice double and laid down an ominous marker to his rivals ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.
Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel exchanged verbal volleys in Melbourne on Thursday as they failed to agree on which driver-team combination should be considered the favourites heading into a new era following changes to the sport's technical regulations.
The consensus in the paddock was that Ferrari, led by four-time champion Vettel and starved of championship glory for a decade, held the advantage following a promising eight days of pre-season testing in Barcelona.
However, Hamilton's blistering pace here round Albert Park would appear to point to the contrary.
Indeed Britain's triple world champion, who is bidding to reclaim the crown he lost to bitter rival Nico Rosberg last year, finished both sessions an eye-watering half-a-second clear of his rivals.
Hamilton's best effort of one minute 23.620 seconds was 0.547 faster than Vettel in the second session, with Valtteri Bottas, the Finnish driver hired to replace Rosberg following his shock retirement, marginally slower.
Kimi Raikkonen was fourth fastest, with the Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen fifth and sixth.
"It is a wonderful feeling coming into a new era of Formula One to have a car that is so strong and I'm super happy to be back, particularly after a first day like that," beamed Hamilton. "It was 99 per cent perfect.
"After struggling with some issues in Barcelona we didn't know if we'd have the same thing here. What's really encouraging is that we've arrived at the track just a week later and the car is exactly where it should be.
"We were optimistic and hopeful that we would be at front, but the car felt night and day as to how it did in the final days of testing so that was a relief to all of us.
"Ferrari are still right there with us and Red Bull have picked up a lot of pace. We have got to stay on our toes, but I think we are making the right steps in the right direction."
But who will come out on pole?