World champion Sebastian Vettel will start from pole position for Sunday’s season-opening Formula One Australian Grand Prix after a dominant performance by the Red Bull driver in Saturday’s qualifying.

Vettel had a time of 1 minute, 23.529 seconds, more than three-quarters of a second quicker than nearest rival Lewis Hamilton of McLaren.

“It’s a good position to be in. It’s the best position, pole position, so I’m very happy with that,” Vettel said. “But we need to keep our feet on the ground and see how we get on tomorrow.”

Red Bull’s Mark Webber will start from third in front of his home crowd, with Jenson Button of McLaren fourth as he attempts to win the race for a third straight year.

Hamilton’s performance to split the Red Bulls was an impressive one, and McLaren reaped the reward for making some bold changes to the car after trouble off-season testing.

“It was a very brave and tough decision for us to pull back from what we’d been developing over the winter test,” the 2008 world champion said. “And after the last test to come back and decide we were going to go in another direction. Since I’ve been here, we’ve never ever done that before.”

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso qualified fifth — a worrying 1.4 seconds behind Vettel — while Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher was a disappointing 11th.

The Red Bulls and McLarens were consistently fastest after the first Q1 session, switching between the firmer ‘prime’ tires and the options to try and feel their way to faster lap combinations.

There may be more surprises in store for race day after the Red Bull drivers revealed they did not use the added thrust of their KERS systems at all in qualifying. Neither Vettel or Webber would elaborate on the reason behind the decision.

Troubled constructor Hispania could become the first team to miss out on the race under the reintroduced 107 percent rule, after both its drivers failed post a time under the cut off mark set at seven percent higher than the fastest time in Q1.

With the cut-off time set at 1:31.266, Vitantonio Liuzzi could manage only 1:32.978 and Narain Karthikeyan had 1:34.293. However, Hispania could yet take its place at the back of the grid if rival teams and race stewards agree to give it a reprieve.

Renault’s Nick Heidfeld, who was ninth fastest in final practice earlier in the day, was also eliminated in Q1 and will start from a disappointing 18th.

In Q2, Williams’ Rubens Barrichello ruined his chances of qualifying in the top-10 when he touched the grass coming into turn three, losing control and spinning into the gravel.

Adrian Sutil of Force India was eliminated in spectacular fashion as he spun his car 360 degrees coming out of the final turn, narrowly missing a wall while disappearing in tire smoke, before regaining control and continuing his lap.

Renault’s Vitaly Petrov put in a strong performance to qualify in sixth place, ahead of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.

Kamui Kobayashi of Sauber and Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Buemi also impressed by making it into the Q3 session, and will start ninth and tenth respectively.

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