The Englishman did not win a race last season as Mercedes experienced a torrid 2022, the team’s run of eight successive constructors’ titles coming to an end as Red Bull took the title.
Two races into the new season and Mercedes appeared set for another arduous campaign as Red Bull made a flying start, winning in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Hamilton qualified in seventh for the two races of the season so his surprise at starting third on the grid for Sunday’s GP was understandable.
“I’m so happy with this. This is totally unexpected,” he told reporters, according to F1.com. “Really, really proud of the team.”
Hamilton’s teammate George Russell qualified second, behind world champion Max Verstappen, who secured pole for the first time in Melbourne.
“George did a fantastic job today, so for us to be up in the two front rows is honestly a dream for us,” Hamilton added. “We are all working as hard as we can to be back right at the front, so to be this close to Red Bull is honestly incredible.
“I hope tomorrow we can give them a bit of a run for their money, and we hope the weather is good.”
Mercedes team Principal Toto Wolff told reporters that Verstappen was “in a league of his own” but said the Silver Arrows’ performance in qualifying had brought the team happiness.
Verstappen achieved his 22nd career pole, setting a time of one minute 16.732 seconds. Russell was 0.236 secs behind, with Hamilton 0.372 secs off. Fernando Alonso qualified in fourth.
Sergio Perez, winner of the Saudi Arabia GP, crashed on his first lap and will start the race at the back of the field.