Lewis Hamilton continued his strong start to the season by taking his sixth back to back pole position at Albert Park ahead of this weekend’s season opening Australian Grand Prix. The Englishman outpaced his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by four tenths of a second.
Mercedes pace in qualifying came as a surprise as the team out paced there Ferrari rivals by seven tenths, that was despite an expectation that the Ferrari was going to be faster. But, Hamilton pulled out one of his magic laps, setting a new track record and securing his sixth consecutive pole in Melbourne.
Hamilton’s main title rival Sebastian Vettel was third fastest, but he was a massive 0.704s off pole position having never shown Mercedes-threatening pace this weekend. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen split the Ferraris on the team’s debut weekend with Honda, lapping just over a tenth slower than Vettel.
Although this was a regular performance by the Silver Arrows, the pace advantage is puzzling, as when testing finished it was believed that the gap had narrowed. But means Ferrari head into tomorrows race on the back foot.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen got the teams life with Honda off to a brilliant start going fifth fastest and splitting both the Ferrari’s with Charles Leclerc fifth. But the same could not be said Pierre Gasly, a strategy error saw the Frenchman drop out in Q1.
Hamilton said “I’m shaking it was so close out there. From testing, we had no idea where we would be. We were hoping to be where we are. Valtteri did an exceptional job. It was very close.”
Bottas said: “The first lap was very nice, I really enjoyed that. Not quite enough for pole, unfortunately, but look forward to tomorrow.”
Vettel, whose Ferrari team had looked quicker than Mercedes in pre-season testing, said: “The car feels all right. There is not anything wrong. Certainly surprised (by the gap). I think everybody is, probably themselves.”
“Yesterday we did not have a good day, today felt better but the gap was similar. There is some homework we need to do to understand. I still think we have a great car.”
Vettel sounded non-plussed but actually, the margin between him and Hamilton is very similar to what it was last year in Australia – and Ferrari went on to win the race after a Mercedes strategy error.
It was a close battle between the midfield teams, Romain Grosjean taking sixth place ahead of teammate Kevin Magnussen. McLaren enjoyed there best qualifying in recent years in Melbourne, debutant Lando Norris put in a strong session going eighth fastest shining in both Q2 and Q3.
While Kimi Raikkonen took ninth for Alfa Romeo ahead of the Racing Point of Sergio Perez.
Both Renaults failed to get through to Q2, Hulkenberg being pushed out by Perez by three-hundredths of a second. The German aborting his run with what he reported as a boost pressure drop-out and had to rely on his first-run time, which was compromised by time lost in the final sector.
His new teammate Daniel Ricciardo was eight thousandths off a second off a place in Q2. Alex Albon starts his first race thirteenth ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi.
Racing Point’s Lance Stroll was quickest of those eliminated in Q1 having momentarily jumped up to eighth after being one of the first drivers to set a time on his second set of tyres before being bumped into the drop zone by late improver Ricciardo.
As expected it was a difficult session for Williams, the team were well off the pace George Russell the faster of the two after lapping 1.276s slower than Sainz. While Robert Kubica starts his first race since Abu Dhabi in 2010 twentify.
The Polish driver was s unable to improve on his second run after kissing the wall exiting the Turn Nine and Ten, which gave him a right-rear puncture that manifested itself at the approach to Turn 11.