efe-epaMelbourne (Australia)

Lewis Hamilton outpaced all his rivals to take pole position in Australia on Saturday and will start the race in first place on the grid for the first Grand Prix of the season.

The defending world champion drove his Mercedes around Melbourne's Grand Prix Circuit in Albert Park in a qualifying time of one minute, 20.486 seconds, edging his teammate but, crucially, lapping a full 0.704secs faster than arch-rival Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel who finished third.

“Everyone was not expecting to see the performance difference we have seen here,” said Hamilton, the reigning five-time world champion, who ended up a 10th of a second ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas but a vast seven 10ths ahead of Vettel.

Hamilton took the Albert Park lap record and claimed his 84th career pole position and eighth in Melbourne.

Only two other F1 drivers have achieved eight pole positions at a single track: Michael Schumacher at Suzuka and Ayrton Senna at Imola.

“Coming from Barcelona, we made some big steps forward in the last couple of days with the set-up. We brought it here and it seems it worked. A lot of work has been done where we analyzed everything, made some small corrections.”

Ferrari's fast pace during pre-season testing in Barcelona appeared to have deserted the Italian prancing horse team, a point reinforced by Max Verstappen who finished fourth on the grid in his Red Bull, splitting up the Ferraris by leaving Charles Leclerc in fifth.

"For sure there is some homework for us to do to understand," Vettel said. "I still think we have a great car," he added. "We should be better than this, so I am looking forward to tomorrow."

The Haas team came in just behind Leclerc, with Romain Grosjean ending sixth with teammate Kevin Magnussen on seventh.

Lando Norris, who has just begun his Formula One career at McLaren, succeeded in driving his car to eighth place.

"Q3 comes to an end with Lando Norris finishing in P8," said McLaren on its Twitter account. "Solid work from our rookie on his debut F1 weekend."

His teammate Carlos Sainz was unable to go beyond the first qualifying period as he came across the two slow Williams cars while out on his flying lap and ended up 18th on the grid.

Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen and Racing Point's Sergio Perez completed the top 10.

At the rear, Williams' George Russell was 19th while Robert Kubica, who was making his comeback after serious injury, was in the final 20th spot on the grid.

“Yesterday, Ferrari were with us. We were heavy on fuel, and then when we dropped fuel we were on par in terms of performance,” Hamilton said. “Then all of a sudden, they lost some performance this morning, which is not what I was expecting,” he added.

“It’s a difficult circuit and it’s dusty, it could be a number of things,” Hamilton said. “I’m grateful for where our car is and I know Ferrari will be pushing hard and progressing in the coming days.”