Lewis Hamilton is hoping "big things" are looming with Mercedes after starting Formula One's new era with a dramatic pole position ahead of Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.

In wet conditions around Melbourne's Albert Park, that only added to the spectacle for the start of the new season dominated by the major regulations overhaul, Hamilton snatched pole at the death from home hero Daniel Ricciardo.

For a few seconds it appeared as if Ricciardo, who replaced fellow Australian Mark Webber at Red Bull after being promoted from Toro Rosso, would clinch a sensational pole for his new team in front of his home crowd.

But as last man across the line, Hamilton timed his run to perfection to beat Ricciardo by three tenths of a second to claim the 32nd pole of his F1 career.

While one pole position does not make a championship, Hamilton feels he is at least in the right place to add to the solitary crown he won in 2008.

"I said when I joined this team that I knew it was going somewhere, that it would continue growing, and I feel very much a part of that," said Hamilton.

"I've been told this pole is the 100th for Mercedes (as an engine supplier and manufacturer), and I've had 32 of them, so I'm really proud to be a part of the history of Mercedes-Benz.

"Of course, I'm praying and hoping that with the work we're doing and focus we have this is going to lead to big things.

"Right now, though, I'm just taking a day at a time. I'm not thinking about the potential this car has or how far it's going to go because we haven't even started the first race yet.

"But it has been incredible to see the car come together. To be able to drive it and have the performance we've had is a true showing of how strong this team really is and where it's going."

The pole elevated Hamilton alongside Nigel Mansell as the most successful Briton in F1 qualifying, a feat the 29-year-old is naturally very proud of.

"He is one of the greatest Brtish drivers we've had," said Hamilton of the 1992 world champion.

"To get as many poles as him is a great achievement which I owe to my teams, McLaren and Mercedes, and all the good people I've had around me."

As to whether Hamilton follows up with his 23rd career win remains to be seen, particularly as Mercedes - like all the teams - are still learning about, and at the mercy of, the new 1.6-litre V6 turbo-charged power units.

With further rain forecast, Hamilton is predicting "a very difficult race, one of the toughest races I can imagine" as the conditions and the new systems combined to make qualifying captivating and unpredictable.

Ricciardo on the front row was certainly a surprise given Red Bull's dire pre-season, during which they were blighted with problems.

The fact reigning four-times champion Sebastian Vettel starts 12th due to a software issue underlines Red Bull are still fighting gremlins.

It is the first time in 28 races, since the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, Vettel has failed to reach the top 10.

As far as the race is concerned he is not sure he will finish, as he said: "You don't have to be a genius. We haven't done a race simulation, a race distance in one go.

"We have improved reliability compared to testing simply because we have been able to put parts on the car, but there is still a long way to go, we know that.

"We're both on the line in terms of seeing the chequered flag."

Nico Rosberg lines up third in his Mercedes, followed by Kevin Magnussen, who conjured a brilliant fourth on his F1 debut for McLaren.

As for the heavyweights, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen start fifth and 11th, the latter spoiling his return to the team by spinning into a wall at the end of Q2.

Either side of the Finn are Jenson Button in his McLaren in 10th and Vettel, the trio all elevated a place courtesy of a five-place grid penalty for Williams' Valtteri Bottas, who drops from 10th to 15th.

Marussia's Max Chilton, out-qualified 18-1 by team-mate Jules Bianchi last year, starts 17th with the Frenchman 18th.

Lotus' horrid form continued as Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado start 20th and 21st, aided by a grid penalty for Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez, who lines up at the back.