Lewis Hamilton will start the season-opening Australian GP on pole position after narrowly out-pacing Sebastian Vettel in qualifying.

But there was relief for the field with Ferrari within touching distance of Mercedes and Vettel less than three tenths behind the pole-sitter.

“It’s going to be a tight race,” admitted a relieved Hamilton.

Vettel and Hamilton last started a race alongside each other on the front row at the 2015 Bahrain GP.

“The team is getting stronger and the people are fired up,” said Vettel. “We are improving.”

Hamilton expecting ‘real race’ with Ferrari

Vettel’s front-row start will be Ferrari’s first since Singapore in 2015 while Hamilton’s pole is the 62nd of his career and his sixth at Albert Park.

“It’s going to be close – obviously already the Ferrari are very, very close with us,” Hamilton told Sky F1. “We’ll keep pushing and people are going to see a real race, which I think is what we wanted.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third quickest, a smidgen behind Vettel on both of their Q3 runs, with Kimi Raikkonen fourth in the second Ferrari.

“We have a challenge on here,” concluded Sky F1’s Pat Symonds. “Valtteri’s lap could have been better, he could have been closer. Vettel’s lap was great. We’ve got a race on.”

But on a deeply disappointing afternoon for Red Bull, home favourite Daniel Ricciardo spun out during Q3 and will start outside of the top 10 if, as expected, a new gearbox is required due to the crash damage.