(CNN) -- There will be a Red Bull on the front row of the grid for Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix -- but it's not four-time Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel.
The German will be back in 12th place after a dramatic qualifying session on Saturday in which wet weather added to the uncertainty created by the radical design changes for this year's cars.
Vettel failed to make it into Q3 for the first time since 2012 as he suffered with engine software problems, but his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo shrugged off the champion team's preseason struggles by being second fastest behind Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton is one of the early favorites for the title, and his Mercedes team lived up to its billing as Nico Rosberg qualified third ahead of McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen and Ferrari's two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.
"Qualifying was a lot harder for everyone with the tricky conditions and it was a real challenge out there," said Hamilton, who won the 32nd pole of his career to move up to sixth on the all-time list and match the British record held by Nigel Mansell.
"We were on the edge with the tires and it was difficult to know which way to go at times. It's the first time I've driven the car on the limit in the wet, but it felt great and I'm so happy with the job the team has done," added the 2008 world champion, who was also fastest in Friday's practice sessions.
Vettel, seeking a record-equaling fifth successive title, took some positives from Red Bull's performance.
"I think we have made a big step forward with the car, but of course I'm not happy that we didn't make it to Q3," he said.
"I think the car is quick, but we struggled this afternoon with driveability which, in these conditions, made it even worse. The car seems good and Daniel did a very good job to be on the front row, so congratulations to him."
The Australian has made the step up from Red Bull's feeder team Toro Rosso to replace veteran compatriot Mark Webber.
"It was definitely a really nice first qualifying session with the team," said Ricciardo, who had moved ahead of Rosberg to top the timesheets before Hamilton snatched back the lead with a late lap.
"I'm happy for us to have a front row start -- it wasn't looking like this a few weeks ago, so I'm pretty pleased right now."
Magnussen outshined veteran teammate Jenson Button after the 2009 world champion failed to make it to Q3, though he was promoted to 10th after Williams rookie Valtteri Bottas was given a five-place penalty for changing his gearbox.
Alonso, the distant runner-up in last year's championship, had the edge on his new Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who won the 2013 race ahead of the Spaniard with Lotus but will start 11th this time.
Raikkonen spun off and damaged his front wing, but by that stage had no chance of making the final session.
Toro Rosso impressed as French driver Jean-Eric Vergne qualified sixth and Russian 19-year-old Daniil Kvyat was eighth on his debut.
Force India's new signing Nico Hulkenberg confirmed his reputation as a canny wet-weather driver as the German qualified seventh, but Mexican teammate Sergio Perez was back in 16th.
Former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa will start ninth in his first outing for Williams, while Bottas was relegated to 15th.
It was a nightmare day at the back of the field for Lotus, who have lost not only Raikkonen but also team boss Eric Boullier to McLaren.
Romain Grosjean, who was seventh overall last year, will start 21st on the grid ahead of teammate Pastor Maldonado -- who couldn't even set a time after coming into Q1 late due to a power unit problem.