Verstappen had things all his own way until Q3, when a mistake at the penultimate corner on his first flying lap put him out of sequence with the field.
He was forced to set two more laps to lock out pole position, but the Dutchman was ultimately too good to open the door to a raider to snatch the place.
“I think the last run was very good,” he said of his final lap. “The whole weekend it’s been very tough to get the tyres in the right window to push straight away, but it all came together in Q3.”
But while Verstappen was ultimately well poised, Perez has been hampered by a car balance issue that his seen him struggle to string together clean laps in every session.
He spent 20 minutes in the garage during Saturday practice as mechanics worked at the rear of his car, but apparently to no avail, as the Mexican went off track several times throughout practice and then again on his first push lap in qualifying.
Perez speared off the road at the slow-speed left-handed turn 3 and beached himself in the gravel, ending his afternoon instantly.
“We need to sort that issue man,” he said before he extricated himself from the cockpit. “It was the same f****ing issue again.”
Without the Mexican in the mix, the Mercedes drivers charged to a shock two-three qualification, with George Russell leading Lewis Hamilton on the grid.
Russell was 0.236 seconds adrift at the end of his final lap, a gap that thrilled the Briton. “We weren’t expecting that, that’s for sure,” he said. “A lot of hard work is going on back at the factory and here in Melbourne.
“What a session for us. The car felt alive. It was right on the limit… The car felt awesome. It definitely goes to show we’ve still got potential to come.”
Hamilton was similarly pleased to be so close to Red Bull Racing. “I’m so happy with this,” he said. “This is totally unexpected.
“I’m really proud of the team. George did a fantastic job. For us to be on the two front rows is honestly a dream for us.
“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.”
Fernando Alonso slotted into fourth for Aston Martin ahead of Carlos Sainz, who was more than half a second off the pace in the fastest Ferrari.
Lance Stroll was sixth in the second Aston Martin car, pipping Charles Leclerc to the position.
Thai driver Alex Albon was excellent in eighth, his Williams car super-fast in a straight line that made him unbeatable along the long back straight.
Pierre Gasly will start ninth for Alpine ahead of Haas driver Nico Hülkenberg.
Esteban Ocon will line up 11th after qualifying prevented him from making up the 0.007 seconds he needed for a top-10 berth.
Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda put his upgraded AlphaTauri 12th ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris in 13th.
Haas driver Kevin Magnussen will start 14th ahead of Dutch rookie Nyck de Vries in the sister AlphaTauri machine.
Australian Oscar Piastri was knocked out of his first home qualifying session 16th for McLaren, just edging Alfa Romeo sophomore Zhou Guanyu by 0.023s.
American rookie Logan Sargeant will start 18th in his Williams ahead of 2019 Australian Grand Prix winner Valtteri Bottas, who said his final lap was hampered by traffic, while Perez will start last after his crash.
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