Lewis Hamilton stormed to pole position for the season-opening Australian GP after blowing away his rivals with a blistering final lap in qualifying.
In a stunning demonstration of his skills, Hamilton improved by eight tenths of a second on his last lap to leave Red Bull and Ferrari trailing in his wake and over half a second behind.
Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel then exchanged sharp barbs in the post-session press conference with the Mercedes driver telling his Ferrari rival he wanted to “wipe the smile off your face”.
Kimi Raikkonen will line up alongside Hamilton on the front row with Vettel third and Max Verstappen fourth for Red Bull.
But after losing control of his Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas crashed out at the start of Q3 with the extensive damage to the car potentially triggering a grid penalty.
After their opening laps in Q3, hopes of a close fight between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull looked poised to be realised with Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen separated by less than a tenth.
But in an ominous and astonishing turn of speed in the final moments of Q3, Hamilton went into overdrive and delivered an improvement worth nearly a second of lap time to leave his rivals distant and bewildered.
“This was a Lewis Hamilton lap,” said an admiring Nico Rosberg on Sky F1. “When he’s in this form the rest may as well pack up and go because there’s no way of beating him.
“That looked extremely special.”
It was Hamilton’s seventh pole position at Albert Park although the Mercedes driver may not want to dwell on the statistic that only twice in the last eight years has the pole-sitter won the race.
Vettel admitted he made a mistake at Turn 13 on his final lap while Verstappen also ran wide on his last attempt to topple Hamilton.
But Ferrari remain confident their long-run form will offer Mercedes a more competitive fight on Sunday while Verstappen will start the race on the slower but more durable supersoft tyres after Red Bull opted to roll the dice on strategy.