Lewis Hamilton set a blistering lap to take the 73rd pole of his Formula 1 career, his seventh at the Australian Grand Prix, proving that he will still be the man to beat in 2018.
Hamilton set a new all-time track record for Albert Park, a 1 minute 21.164 seconds, a time that ended up over seven-tenths faster than closest challenger Kimi Räikkönen. Sebastian Vettel made it two Scuderia Ferrari cars in the top three, whilst Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport team-mate Valtteri Bottas will start from a highest of tenth after crashing out in spectacular fashion on his first hot lap in Qualifying 3.
Hamilton topped both the first and last sessions, but faced competition from Vettel in the mid-part of the afternoon. The Ferrari driver became the first man to enter the 1 minute 21 bracket, but could not match Hamilton when it mattered as the Brit unlocked “party time” at the death.
Last year’s two main protagonists were even in Q3’s opening efforts. After Bottas’s wrecked Mercedes was recovered from the exit of Turn 2 – the Finn ran wide onto the astroturf, losing traction – Hamilton set a time three-hundredths of a second ahead of Vettel with Max Verstappen lurking behind in third. But the German could find no answer to Hamilton’s final question and was edged off the front row by a seemingly rejuvenated Räikkönen.
Verstappen and his Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team-mate Daniel Ricciardo took fourth and fifth, but the latter faces a drop of three places, after yesterday’s transgression of the rules under red flag conditions.
Over one and a half seconds shy of Red Bull, the Haas F1 Team were the best of the rest in Qualifying, cementing their pre-season promise. Kevin Magnussen got the better of Romain Grosjean for the ninth time in his Haas career, noting that the American team need to find consistency in order to have a chance at a top five Constructors’ Championship finish.
The two Renault Sport Formula 1 Team cars effectively rounded out the top 10, given Bottas’s no show. Carlos Sainz Jr. had the measure of Nico Hülkenberg in Free Practice and the first two Qualifying phases, but the German finished strongly to take eighth, less than a tenth ahead of the Spaniard.
McLaren shy of top 10 shootout
Fernando Alonso had previously warned that the McLaren F1 Team would be at their “lowest level” in Australia, which bodes well for the next 20 races. The Spaniard just failed to make it into the final part of Qualifying by a fraction more than a tenth of a second. His team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne snapped at his heels two-tenths behind, ensuring that for the sixth year running McLaren fail to get both cars into Q3 in Australia.
Akin to 2017, both Sahara Force India F1 Team cars ended their day early. Sergio Pérez was the pick of the duo in thirteenth, whilst Esteban Ocon will provisionally start in fifteenth. The Frenchman opted for just one hot lap and could not get within seven-tenths of Pérez.
Exceeding the expectations of many, Lance Stroll sandwiched the two Force Indias for Williams Martini Racing, showing that Williams should not be discarded despite their inexperienced driver pairing.
Both Toro Rosso and Sauber suffer early exit
A difficult hour for Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda saw both drivers fall at the first hurdle. On his final lap, Brendon Hartley improved by over a second, but only to move up to sixteenth from dead last; his berth was taken by team-mate Pierre Gasly, who made a crucial error at Turn 3, slithering wide and through the gravel trap on his final effort. On a pleasing note, it marks the first time both Hartley and Gasly will start a Formula 1 race sans grid penalties.
Despite a difficult Friday, the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team showed promising signs in Qualifying, despite Marcus Ericsson and rookie Charles Leclerc failing to get out of the first session. Ericsson briefly troubled the midfield, rising as high as twelfth, but saw his time trumped by the impressive Leclerc in the dying seconds.
Leclerc’s fellow rookie Sergey Sirotkin noted today as “learning day” and matched team-mate Stroll’s first Qualifying effort 12 months ago to start nineteenth, four-tenths away from making it into Qualifying 2.
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