MELBOURNE - Lewis Hamilton snatched pole position from Australia's Daniel Ricciardo in the dying seconds of a thrilling Australian Grand Prix qualifying session Saturday, as world champion Sebastian Vettel failed to make the top 10.
Ricciardo, preparing for his first race with Red Bull, stormed to the top of the field as the clocked ticked down to zero, before he was trumped by Mercedes' Hamilton in a flying last lap in driving rain.
The 2008 world champion's German team-mate, Nico Rosberg, placed third, with McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen fourth and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso fifth in the season's first qualifying session.
But there was a sensational miss for Vettel, seeking his fifth straight world title and record 10th consecutive race win, who failed even to reach the final qualifying shoot-out and placed 13th.
Vettel had been struggling in his Red Bull car and he was held up in Q2 after Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen hit a wall, prompting yellow flags ordering drivers to slow down.
It was the first time since Abu Dhabi in 2012 that Vettel has missed Q3, and Hamilton's pole position ends Red Bull's run of eight consecutive races after the Belgian Grand Prix in August.
"It was tricky conditions, for some reason we had more problems today than we had yesterday... the speed is there so we'll see what it (the car) can do tomorrow," Vettel said.
"It's a long race, anything can happen we've seen this year so far that with these cars anything is possible so especially in the race I think there will be plenty of opportunities, so we'll see what we get." Vettel will be in good company halfway down the grid after former world champions Raikkonen and Jenson Button of McLaren also failed to reach the final qualifying shoot-out.
Raikkonen nosed into a wall and came to a stop, while Button, who had claimed two previous poles in Melbourne, was 11th quickest and just missed out on Q3.
Lotus had a nightmare first outing of the season when both their drivers, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, went out in Q1.
Rain lashed the circuit 10 minutes into qualifying, sending fans scurrying for their umbrellas and rain jackets.
And there was a mighty roar when Australia's Ricciardo appeared to have taken pole, before Hamilton stole it back at the death.