Lewis Hamilton has started his season of by storming to pole position ahead of this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix. The four times champion put in a brilliant lap going seven tenths faster than the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen with Sebastian Vettel third.
It was a dominating start for the Englishman, who went a second faster than his own track record that he set in qualifying last year, which underlines the performance of Mercedes. Hamilton was comfortably ahead in the first and last sectors going three tenths faster, giving him a record number of poles in Australia.
Hamilton said “You would think with these results we have had for years it would feel the norm but it doesn’t. That was intense, my heart is racing. I am so happy with that lap. What was surprising was to see how quick the Ferraris were.”
Raikkonen and Vettel looked strong in Q1 and topped the times, with the Finn ahead of Vettel. The two remain close on track, with a nip and tuck battle between them, as well as the Red Bull of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Vettel said “I think we can be happy. I wasn’t happy yesterday but it got better in qualifying. I had a little moment in Turn 13 on the last lap. Shame Lewis had quite a big gap in the end but his lap was pretty good.”
The Dutchman was .04 behind Vettel, who has looked as if he was struggling with his Ferrari throughout the session. After speeding under a red flag in FP2, Ricciardo has a three-place grid penalty. It was a tough start for Valtteri Bottas who crashed out at the beginning of Q3.
The Finn made a mistake after running wide onto the grass at Turn One and slid into the barriers at Two. The Mercedes car suffered huge damage to the side, with the team now facing penalties to repair the car for the race.
Up until his crash, Bottas looked as if he had been able to be a challenger to Hamilton. Bottas was taken to the medical centre for routine checks and declared to be fine, but he will take a five-place grid penalty for changing a gearbox.
Explaining what happened, Bottas says he believes that the rain was a factor. He said “I got sudden wheelspin and I couldn’t catch the rear anymore or lift anymore. It was my mistake. I just pushed too hard in that corner, trying to gain some time. That cost me Q3 and for us as a team a lot of extra work for tomorrow.”
Haas’s promising start to the season continued as they finished the session best of the rest, with Kevin Magnussen ahead of Romain Grosjean. The team were two seconds off the pace and lock out the third row thanks to Ricciardo’s penalty.
Renault also impressed getting both Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz into Q3, they will start eighth and ninth separated by half a tenth. McLaren had set the target of being in the top ten, however, Fernando Alonso missed out by under a tenth thanks to a moment at Turn Three.
Going into this weekend the Spaniard has stressed he thinks that this will be the team’s weakest race of the season, as McLaren are still adapting to their new engine partnership with Renault.
Force India ‘has a lot to do,’ were the words of Sergio Perez as he and his teammate Esteban Ocon both failed to get out of Q2. Like Alonso, Williams Lance Stroll had a moment at Three, but spilt the Force India’s in fourteenth.
Brendon Hartley finished sixteenth, admitting he made a mistake on his final run which left him two thousandths off a place in Q2. But there wasn’t an end to Sergey Sirotkin’s woes as he joins Pierre Gasly on the back row.
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