MELBOURNE (AFP) - World champion Sebastian Vettel produced a flying last lap to grab the pole for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday.
Vettel trumped Lewis Hamilton's best time in a Mercedes with his fastest lap of one minute 27.407 seconds, and will start alongside his Red Bull teammate Mark Webber on the front row of the grid.
It was the young German's 37th career pole and sets up the world champion Red Bull team as favourites heading into the season-opening race at Melbourne's Albert Park street circuit later Sunday.
The final two stages of qualifying were postponed until Sunday morning by rain on Saturday.
"It was definitely not easy in these conditions and it is always tricky to find the limit in these conditions, especially around some of the areas that were still a bit wet," Vettel said.
"But overall I was pretty happy with the lap and as soon as I got confirmation that it was enough I pulled in to save the tyres." Hamilton, who has switched to Mercedes from McLaren, had looked set to nab the pole when he carved 3.3secs off the best lap time to 1:28.087 but Vettel, under the hammer, produced a sizzling final lap to trump the Briton.
"The guys did a fantastic job to get us out on time and it was very tricky out there and I am very happy to get the job done. Obviously these guys (Red Bull) were incredibly quick," Hamilton said.
"Just to be this far up (on the grid) so early in the season and it was a blessing that they moved the qualifying to today." Webber, bidding to join Jack Brabham and Alan Jones as a home winner of the Australian GP, finished second quickest with 1:27.827.
"It was very chaotic, very difficult to get all the planning right, and all the drivers were bit frustrated that they couldn't use the slick tyres a bit earlier," said Webber.
Felipe Massa was fourth ahead of his Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso, while German Nico Rosberg was sixth in his Mercedes.
Rosberg was quickest in Q2 from Vettel, while Massa and McLaren's Jenson Button scraped into the final stages of qualifying with flying last laps to beat the cut.
Button was 11th but switched back to intermediate tyres and got to fourth fastest, while Massa improved from 12th fastest to grab fifth.
The six drivers cut after Q2 were Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber), Adrian Sutil (Force India), Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso), Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso), Sergio Perez (McLaren) and Valtteri Bottas (Williams).
The McLaren team's gamble on using tyre slicks cost Perez a chance of qualifying higher up the race grid.
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh was seen shaking his head trackside at the team error.