Veteran Spanish ace Fernando Alonso missed out on the front row in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday, but hailed his fourth place as the best so far this year.

The Aston Martin star, who started second in Saudi Arabia and has clocked podium finishes in the two grand prix this season, was pipped at the top of the timesheets by Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

He also finished behind revived Mercedes pair George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, but it was a tight finish and the 41-year-old said he was very happy.

"The circuit was difficult to judge at times, with changeable temperatures and weather. We seemed to improve in every session though and the car felt good to drive," said the two-time world champion.

"Overall, I think it was probably our best qualifying session so far this season and our closest gap to pole position.

"We will see what we can do tomorrow because our race pace seems to be one of our strengths. We are expecting it to be difficult to overtake, but in these cooler conditions it will be an interesting race with lots of unknowns."

Teammate Lance Stroll will start sixth, sandwiched between Ferrari pair Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, and described the qualifying session as "fun".

"It is a great track to push hard at and the car was handling well. I think the team put in a good performance to qualify fourth and sixth despite fairly challenging circumstances," he said.

"The field is incredibly tight and so we are lining up in a strong place to fight hard for the top positions tomorrow.