Sebastian Vettel on pole from Lewis Hamilton at Australian Grand Prix
Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, 25-27 March Race: Sunday 27 March 0600-0900 BST on BBC One, HD, Red Button, online and Radio 5 live sports extra
Highlights - Australian Grand Prix qualifying
By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport in Melbourne
Sebastian Vettel unleashed an electrifying display of pace to capture the first pole position of the new season for Red Bull in Australia.
A late dash from Lewis Hamilton underlined McLaren's improvement as he closed within 0.778 seconds of the German to join him on the front row.
Mark Webber's Red Bull and Jenson Button's McLaren echoed the pattern in third and fourth places.
Ferrari struggled for speed and Fernando Alonso will start fifth.
Sunday's race begins at 0700 GMT.
Vettel, who claimed 10 pole positions on his way to last year's championship, dominated each phase of qualifying around Albert Park and only needed one shot to secure first place on the grid, as the rest of the field failed to reel him in.
His team-mate Webber could not find the pace to match him and finished a massive 0.866secs adrift.
"That is a huge gap and Webber will be disappointed," said BBC F1 analyst Eddie Jordan. "Psychologically that will be a big blow."
"That was some kind of dominant performance from the young German and the reigning world champion," added BBC F1 commentator Martin Brundle.
Australian GP qualifying - top three drivers
Vettel himself was understandably delighted with the performance of the RB7.
"It was a bit of a funny winter beause a lot of things changed, the car changed a lot, and we all had to work our way with the [new] tyres, but coming here it looks quite promising," he said.
"The key is to finish the race, to see the chequered flag, because last year I had to retire halfway through. But we've had a very, very good preparation, we hardly had any reliability issues, and the car is not too slow, so things are looking good. Today was the base, and it couldn't be any better."
Webber admitted: "I couldn't do the times today, I was disappointed with my performance.
"I tried my best. I'm a little bit mystified by the gap to Seb, but I'll have a look and see where I can improve."
McLaren underlined their improvement after a torrid time in winter testing as Hamilton ended the day as Vettel's closest rival with Button in fourth.
The 2008 world champion - who like Vettel drove his final qualifying lap without the benefit of his Kers power-boost system, considered to be worth around 0.3 seconds per lap - said he was thrilled to be on the front row.
The race is winnable from where I am
"What a turnaround," Hamilton said. "It's a tribute to everyone in the team that we've taken such a massive step this weekend, and the car is feeling fantastic.
"We have a lot to do still, but it's very positive, the race is winnable from where I am and I plan on giving him the race of his life."
In contrast, hotly-tipped Ferrari appeared to struggle throughout qualifying and, along with Michael Schumacher of Mercedes, both cars resorted to soft tyres - which warm up and find more performance more quickly - to ensure they made it through the first session.
Alonso, whose team-mate Felipe Massa was clearly struggling and qualified in eighth, said he had taken a conservative approach to qualifying.
"We were not super-competitive today (compared to) practice," he said.
"We knew if we took a big risk we may be fourth, if we are safe, we go fifth or sixth, so no need to take risks in the first qualifying of the season.
"Position we are happy, distance from pole we are not happy, so we need to look at that overnight. Overall grip was where we lacked.
"We were not so bad yesterday, so we missed something today. I suspect this was not normal pace from us and we will get better and better tomorrow."
I suspect this was not normal pace from us and we will get better and better tomorrow
Schumacher had spoken positively about his chances of getting on the podium on Sunday for Mercedes but the four-time Australian GP winner failed to make it into the top 10 shoot-out.
A last dash round the circuit delivered the German's best time but it was not enough and there were early suggestions that his tyres had lost performance.
"I think Michael will be kicking himself," said F1 analyst David Coulthard. "He lost it in the last two turns; clearly the pace was there but you have to deliver it."
Schumacher's former Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello saw his session end at the midway point after he beached his Williams in the gravel.
"I just went a bit wide and made a silly mistake," the 38-year-old Brazilian conceded.
There was also a glimpse of the unsettling effects of the moveable rear wing - also known as the drag reduction system - which has been introduced this season to aid overtaking.
All the cars were seen activating their rear wings during the hour-long session and Force India's Adrian Sutil lost control of the back of his car when he opened up the rear wing and was lucky to stop it spinning into the wall.
Nick Heidfeld, who is standing in for injured Renault driver Robert Kubica, was the biggest name to tumble in the first part of qualifying around Albert Park.
Renault had appeared to have edged closer to the sharp end of the field after winter testing and Heidfeld's inability to get through with a best time of 1:27.239 was even more baffling as his team-mate Vitaly Petrov set the sixth fastest time.
"I don't know what the problem is," commented BBC pundit Eddie Jordan. "Not to make the first qualifying is a poor showing in a car that clearly has the pace."
Heidfeld, who blamed traffic, joined both the Lotus, Virgin and Hispania cars in bowing out at qualifying's first hurdle.
Hispania failed to run their 2011 car before coming to Melbourne and Indian Narain Karthikeyan managed only a single timed lap during third practice in Melbourne after team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi had done only a couple of laps on Friday.
Karthikeyan and Liuzzi's best times were not good enough to pass a reinstated rule for 2011 which states that any driver whose best lap exceeds 107% of the fastest lap in Q1 will not be allowed to take part in the race.
The team lodged a request to be allowed to race under F1's "exceptional circumstances" rule but this was rejected by race stewards.
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