Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) has taken pole position for the Australian Grand Prix after topping qualifying ahead of team-mate Jenson Button (second) and Lotus’s Romain Grosjean (third).
After all the smoke and mirrors of pre-season testing it is McLaren who have thrown down the gauntlet to their rivals, with Hamilton grabbing the 20th pole of his career to edge out his fellow Briton.
The 27-year-old, on pole at Melbourne’s Albert Park in 2008, the year he won the title, set a lap of one minute 24.992secs, with Button 0.152secs adrift.
After locking out the front row for the first time since the 2009 European Grand Prix, Hamilton said: "It's an incredible feeling to be back up here, mine and Jenson's first one-two for the first time. A massive thanks to all the team who have worked incredibly hard over the winter.
“The race is now going to be incredibly tough and very intense, but the team now need to be on point, as do Jenson and I. Tomorrow is the most important day, but there’s a lot to look forward to.”
Button was equally as delighted for the team given the work put in as he said: “Congratulations to Lewis and the whole team.
“We’ve done a very good job, but this is only the beginning, although it’s looking like it’s going to be a very exciting season.”
Reigning champions Red Bull did not even make the second row. It is occupied by the unusual combination of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and the Mercedes of seven-times champion Michael Schumacher.
However, there is now every possibility one or more of the other teams could protest over Mercedes’ new vent device on the side of the rear-wing endplates.
Lotus team principal Eric Boullier has confirmed he will protest the system that allows the rear wing to stall when the DRS is activated, and it now remains to be seen if others will join him.
That is despite the fact FIA technical director Charlie Whiting has already declared it legal as it is “completely passive” in that it does not move nor is it operated by the driver.
On the third row it is the Red Bulls, with Mark Webber edging out Vettel who starts sixth, his lowest grid slot since the Italian GP of 2010.
Nico Rosberg lines up seventh in his Mercedes, followed by Pastor Maldonado for Williams, the Venezuelan conjuring a superb effort for the team that endured a miserable 2011.
Then come Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India and Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, who did not set a time.
Q2 proved to be a disaster for Ferrari, initially sparked when Fernando Alonso put his left tyre on to the grass on entry into turn one, sending him spinning into the gravel,
It means for the first time since the Turkish Grand Prix in 2010, a run of 31 races, Alonso has failed to make Q3 as he will start 12th behind Toro Rosso rookie Jean-Eric Vergne.
As for team-mate Felipe Massa, he underlined the fact this year’s Ferrari appears to be a dog of a car, as was sensed by observers throughout pre-season testing.
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, Bruno Senna in his Williams and Paul di Resta all finished ahead of Massa in 13th, 14th and 15th, leaving the Brazilian down in 16th ahead of the second Sauber of Sergio Perez who did not set a time.
For Di Resta, his pace was remarkably slower than that of team- mate Hulkenberg who finished 0.7secs quicker in Q2 than the Scot.
As for returning 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, it was not the start to his comeback he would have expected as he dropped out at the end of the opening 20-minute Q1.
The Finn made a mess of his last flying lap, running wide onto a grass verge and coming within inches of hitting a wall, leaving him down in 18th on the grid.
To underline what should have been achieved, team-mate Grosjean finished the session third fastest and with a time 1.3secs ahead of Raikkonen.
Admitting to “a bad start”, Raikkonen said: “I slowed because we were supposed to have time for one more lap. I guess we didn’t.
“Nobody told me when I slowed that I had to hurry up. There’s no point blaming anyone. Everyone is as disappointed as me.”
As has been primarily the case in F1 since the three new teams entered the sport two years ago, the six drivers associated with them also exited Q1.
Caterham have closed the gap to the midfield to a second, whereas here last year it was two seconds, with Heikki Kovalainen ahead of new team-mate Vitaly Petrov by just over 0.3secs.
Marussia’s Timo Glock finished almost two seconds down on Petrov and will start 21st, with rookie team-mate Charles Pic 22nd and almost three quarters of a second behind the German.
As for HRT, neither Pedro de la Rosa nor Narain Karthikeyan were within the 107% time, so should not start, as was the case here last year when they did the same thing.