Lewis Hamilton kicked off his 2017 season with pole position for the Australian Grand Prix, after winning a tense qualifying battle with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton was three tenths up on Vettel after the first runs in Q3, with Bottas just two thousandths of a second slower in third, before Daniel Ricciardo crashed his Red Bull heavily at Turn 14 and caused the session to be red flagged.
The triple champion went even faster on his final run once Q3 resumed, sealing pole with a time of one minute, 22.188 seconds lap – the fastest ever recorded by an Formula 1 car around Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.
Bottas held top stop for a few moments before Hamilton’s improvement despite a scruffy final flying lap, with Vettel then denying Mercedes a front row lockout by posting the second quickest time on his final run.
Despite setting the pace in final practice, Ferrari ultimately didn’t quite have the speed to challenge the best of the Mercedes drivers, with Vettel 0.268 seconds down on Hamilton, but fractionally quicker than Bottas.
Kimi Raikkonen was fourth fastest, more than half a second further back, while Max Verstappen claimed fifth.
Romain Grosjean produced a solid effort to qualify his Haas inside the top six, nearly four tenths clear of Felipe Massa’s Williams.
Massa was just 0.044 seconds clear of Carlos Sainz, who in turn narrowly beat Toro Rosso team-mate Daniil Kvyat to eighth on the grid.
Ricciardo wound up tenth after failing to set a time before his crash.
Neither Force India made it through to Q3. Sergio Perez, who complained of a gearshift problem, missed the cut by just 0.074 seconds despite improving by nearly four tenths on his final flying lap, while Esteban Ocon failed to find time on his final run and wound up in P14.
Nico Hulkenberg qualified P12 on his debut for the works Renault team, only 0.010 seconds down on Perez, while Fernando Alonso manhandled the troubled McLaren-Honda to take P13, ahead of Ocon and Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber.
Last-minute Sauber stand-in Antonio Giovinazzi was P16, after replacing the unfit Pascal Wehrlein ahead of final practice.
The Ferrari reserve driver was quicker than Ericsson after the first runs in Q1, but went off at the penultimate corner on his final effort, so wound up 0.183 seconds down and failed to make the Q2 cut.
Kevin Magnussen’s difficult first weekend racing for Haas continued. K-Mag went off track on his final Q1 flier and failing to improve his time.
He was fractionally faster than Stoffel Vandoorne, who completed only one flying lap in the McLaren after a fuel-flow problem forced him to return to the pits for most of the session.
Williams repaired rookie Lance Stroll’s car in time to make a late appearance in Q1, following his heavy crash at the end of FP3.
Stroll was P19, though faces a grid penalty for a gearbox change ahead of the session, while Renault’s Jolyon Palmer qualified slowest. More than a second down on Stroll and over three adrift of Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.
So an interesting grid line-up for the Australian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton earning his 62nd career pole in the sport with Sebastian Vettel on the front row. The Ferrari seems to be quick and it’s great to see the champions at the top. Roll on race day.
Qualifying positions for the Australian Grand Prix:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m22.188s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m22.456s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m22.481s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m23.033s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m23.485s
6 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m24.074s
7 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m24.443s
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Renault 1m24.487s
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Renault 1m24.512s
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault –
11 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m25.081s
12 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m25.091s
13 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 1m25.425s
14 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m25.568s
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.465s
16 Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.419s
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m26.847s
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Honda 1m26.858s
19 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m28.244s
20 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m27.143s*
*Five-place grid penalty for gearbox change