A big contrast between the Mercedes drivers as Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position for the 2018 Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix, while Valtteri Bottas crashed out of qualifying.
Hamilton looked under pressure after the first Q3 runs, but produced an incredible final lap to take pole position by 0.664 seconds from Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Sebastian Vettel had been just 0.034 seconds behind Hamilton after the first runs, but couldn’t find enough time on his final run to keep team-mate at bay or pressure the Mercedes driver – suggesting he had pushed too hard in Turn 13 on his final attempt.
Max Verstappen, who had been just over half-a-tenth off Hamilton after the first Q3 runs, ended up third position after losing the rear through the Turn 13 right-hander ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
While ultrasofts were the tyres of choice for the rest of the field throughout qualifying, the Red Bull drivers will start on the supersofts, having used them to set their Q2 times.
Despite qualifying fifth fastest, Ricciardo is set to start eighth thanks to a three-place grid penalty for a red flag infringement during Friday practice.
Haas pairing Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean made good on the team’s promising testing and practice pace with sixth and seventh fastest, albeit two seconds off the pace.
Thanks to Ricciardo’s penalty, this means Haas is set to start with a third-row lockout. An awesome result for the American team.
Renault pairing Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz were eighth and ninth, with The Hulk shading his team-mate by just under half-a-tenth.
Bottas ended up tenth after crashing at Turn 2 on his first flying lap in Q3.
The Mercedes driver hit the inside kerb at Turn 1, which appeared to push him deep mid-corner and meant he touched skimmed the damp grass with his left-rear wheel.
He attempted to hold it through the second part of the right/left, but lost the rear and backed into the wall – coming to rest in the middle of the track.
Fernando Alonso was eliminated in Q2 after failing to improve on his second run, having a moment in Turn 3 and ending up three-tenths slower than his earlier attempt.
That was enough to put him one place ahead of McLaren-Renault team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne.
Sergio Perez admitted Force India “has work to do” over the radio after ending up P13, one position ahead of Williams driver Lance Stroll.
Stroll, like Alonso, overdid it into Turn 3 but then ran through the gravel, meaning he was unable to improve on his first-run pace.
Esteban Ocon completed a difficult day for Force India, aborting his first run in Q2 and then lapping just over half-a-second slower than Stroll to end up P11.
Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley was quickest of the five drivers eliminated in the first segment of qualifying, missing out on a place in Q2 by just 29 thousandths of a second to Ocon.
The Sauber drivers completed three runs, with Marcus Ericsson ending up P17 and less than a tenth ahead of rookie teammate Charles Leclerc.
Leclerc complained of an error in the Turn 4 left-hander that cost him a shot at advancing to Q2.
Williams debutant Sergey Sirotkin was outside the drop zone after the first Q1 runs in 15th place, but was shuffled down to P19 by the end of the session despite improving by just over three tenths on his second run.
That put him ahead only of the second Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly, whose final attempt was ruined by locking up and running off track and through the gravel at the Turn 3 right-hander.
So a superb seventh pole position for Hamilton at Melbourne. The speed of that Mercedes W09 is impressive. It’s going to be challenge for everyone to catch the champ on race day. Hopefully the Ferraris can keep Lewis honest.
Qualifying positions, Melbourne:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m21.164s
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m21.828s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m21.838s
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m21.879s
5 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m23.187s
6 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m23.339s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m23.532s
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m22.152s
9 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m23.577s
10 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes –
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m23.692s
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m23.853s
13 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m24.005s
14 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m24.230s
15 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m24.786s
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m24.532s
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m24.556s
18 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m24.636s
19 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m24.922s
20 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m25.295s