It was Hamilton’s 84th career pole, extending his record mark away from nearest on the list Schumacher (68).
Hamilton was challenged by teammate Bottas throughout qualifying but responded in the dying moments to top the timesheets yet again.
“I am shaking, that was so close,” Hamilton said. “It was great to see Valtteri up there. It should be an exciting season.”
Hamilton had no idea he had made history.
“I didn’t know about that. It is news to me,” he said when told about his record-equalling effort.
Vettel tried to put on a brave face after his Ferrari well behind Mercedes despite his team dominating recent testing in Spain.
“I am not too worried. The race is tomorrow and it is not over until the chequered flag,” he said.
Asked if he could still win a third straight Australian Grand Prix, Vettel said: “Of course, you never know – I still think we have a good car.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was “best of the rest” in fourth spot while Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc rounded out the top five.
But highly-touted Red Bull recruit Pierre Gasly – a Toro Rosso graduate – had a disastrous start with his new team and will start 17th on the grid.
In his first F1 event in eight years after a horror world rally championship crash, Williams’ Robert Kubica was slowest in the 20-strong field one place behind teammate, rookie George Russell.
Teams paid tribute to F1 race director Charlie Whiting who died on the eve of the new season with “Thank you Charlie” adorning helmets and cars in qualifying.