Hamilton leads McLaren romp in Australian GP qualifying

McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button began their 2012 Formula One seasons on a high note Saturday by winning the top two starting positions for the Australian Grand Prix.

Hamilton turned a lap around the 3.295-mile (5.303-kilometer) Albert Park course in 1 minute, 24.922 seconds for his 20th career F1 pole. He started on the pole and won the Australian GP in 2008.

"It's an incredible feeling to be back here and to get off to such a good start," Hamilton said. "I'm massively proud of the team, working incredibly hard as they do every year, but just to see that it's never-give-up and this is the result of that."

Button qualified 0.15 seconds behind Hamilton to claim the outside pole. It's the first time McLaren grabbed the top two starting spots since August 2009 when Hamilton and then teammate Heikki Kovalainen made up the front row for the European Grand Prix.

"I think we have done a very good job this winter, and I think we have proved that today," Button said. "It is only the beginning, and obviously the lights haven't gone out yet, but this is a great first result for us on a Saturday. It's looking like it's going to be a very exciting season."

Romain Grosjean from Renault qualified a surprising third with a lap at 1:25.302. Grosjean served as Renault's test and reserve driver last year before joining the team's driver lineup this season.

"It's really nice to be back in Formula One," he said. "I think a few people believed in me the first time, and today I'm back, well, almost to the top, and I'm very proud to be with those guys [Hamilton and Button] here and hope we can keep going that way all season long, and then it will be a very nice story."

Mercedes' Michael Schumacher claimed the fourth starting position, while Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, the two-time defending F1 world champion, placed fifth and sixth, respectively.

Vettel dominated in qualifying throughout the 2011 season, winning a record 15 poles. He is the defending Australian GP winner.

"It's the first qualifying of the year, so it's always difficult to know what to expect, but I think what we saw today was not a surprise," he said. "We have a long race ahead of us tomorrow and a lot of opportunities, so I'm looking forward to it."

Nico Rosberg from Mercedes qualified seventh, and Williams' Pastor Maldonado took the eighth spot. Nico Hulkenberg, in his first start for Force India, and Daniel Ricciardo, who is making his debut with Toro Rosso, completed the top-10.

Ferrari had a disappointing qualifying effort for the F1 season-opener, with Fernando Alonso qualifying 12th and his teammate, Felipe Massa, four spots behind in 16th.

Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus will start 17th in his first grand prix since the conclusion of the 2009 season. Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, spent the past two seasons competing in the World Rally Championship.

Sergio Perez qualified 17th but will drop five places on the starting grid after a gearbox change on his Sauber. Raikkonen along with Caterham drivers Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov and Marussia teammates Timo Glock and Charles Pic, a rookie this season, benefited from Perez's drop down to 22nd in the order.

HRT drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan did not qualify after failing to meet the Q1 107 percent time. Both drivers were more than one second behind the required time of 1:32.214 for this race.

Sunday's 58-lap Australian GP is scheduled to start at 2 a.m. (ET).