Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton kicked off the new Formula 1 season with style with pole position at the Australian Grand Prix, heading a front row lock-out for Mercedes.
This was the perfect result from the champions following the pre-season hype that Ferrari are the quickest. In actual racing performance, the Silver Arrows turned up to form factor to 11 and flew around the Albert Park circuit.
The time difference of seven tenths of a second between Mercedes to Ferrari is massive and really showcase how strong the W10 package is this season.
Hamilton achieved his sixth consecutive pole despite team-mate Valtteri Bottas holding an advantage of 0.457 seconds after the first runs in Q3.
And yet Hamilton stepped up to the challenge with his second set of softs to post a one minute, 20.486 seconds to secure P1. Bottas failed to improve on his second run, meaning he ended up 0.112 seconds behind.
After showing strongly in pre-season testing, the lead Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel was a massive 0.704 seconds off pole position having never shown Mercedes-threatening pace this weekend.
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen split the Ferraris on his team’s debut weekend with Honda, lapping just over a tenth slower than Vettel.
That left Ferrari debutant Charles Leclerc fifth, 0.956 seconds off the pace.
Despite lapping only 0.144 seconds slower than team-mate Verstappen, Red Bull debutant Pierre Gasly was a high-profile victim of Q1 in P17.
He was one of only five drivers not to attempt a second run in the first segment in qualifying and was shuffled down amid the late flurry of improvements, describing the strategy as “a bit optimistic”.
As anticipated, Haas led the midfield with Romain Grosjean taking sixth place ahead of team-mate Kevin Magnussen.
One of the stars of qualifying was debutant Lando Norris, who qualified eighth and 1.818 seconds off the pace after a strong performance in both Q2 and Q3.
This was an outstanding achievement for Lando Norris in his first F1 appearance. To out-qualify your more experienced team-mate and record P8 in his first race for McLaren is simply remarkable.
Kimi Raikkonen was ninth, just 0.010 seconds behind Norris, on his Alfa Romeo return and Sergio Perez claimed P10 for Racing Point.
The Renault were both eliminated in Q2, with Nico Hulkenberg P11 after being pushed into the dropzone by Perez, who lapped 0.030 seconds faster.
Hulkenberg had gone out for a second run, but aborted that effort due to what he reported as a boost pressure dropout. He had to rely on his first run, which was compromised by time lost in the final sector.
Daniel Ricciardo was 0.008 seconds slower than Hulkenberg after being unable to make a big enough improvement on his second run to remain in the top ten, admitting he didn’t have the confidence early in the lap after traffic compromised his out-lap.
Alex Albon was the fastest of the Toro Rosso drivers in P13, 0.138 seconds faster than F1 returnee team-mate Daniil Kvyat, who was P15 – the duo sandwiching the second Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi.
Racing Point’s Lance Stroll was quickest of those eliminated in Q1. He had 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 dropzone by late improver Ricciardo.
Stroll complained over the radio about being impeded by another car during the session, which he identified as either a Haas or a Toro Rosso.
Carlos Sainz Jr’s first qualifying session for McLaren ended in disappointment in P18, just over half a tenth behind Gasly.
Unsurprisingly, the final two places were filled by the Williams drivers, with George Russell the faster of the two after lapping 1.276 seconds slower than Sainz.
Robert Kubica, in his first F1 qualifying session since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, was last and 1.707 seconds behind Russell.
He was unable to improve on his second run after kissing the wall exiting the Turn 9/10 right/left, which gave him a right-rear puncture that manifested itself at the approach to Turn 11.
So an excellent qualifying session from the champions. Can Hamilton and Mercedes start the season with the perfect result with race victory or will Ferrari strike back? Game on in Melbourne.
Qualifying positions, Australian Grand Prix:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m20.486s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m20.598s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m21.190s
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1m21.320s
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1m21.442s
6 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m21.826s
7 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m22.099s
8 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 1m22.304s
9 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m22.314s
10 Sergio Perez Racing Point-Mercedes 1m22.781s
11 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m22.562s
12 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1m22.570s
13 Alexander Albon Toro Rosso-Honda 1m22.636s
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1m22.714s
15 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Honda 1m22.774s
16 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 1m23.017s
17 Pierre Gasly Red Bull-Honda 1m23.020s
18 Carlos Sainz McLaren-Renault 1m23.084s
19 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1m24.360s
20 Robert Kubica Williams-Mercedes 1m26.067s