(Photo credit: Jen_ross83)
Lewis Hamilton put in a storming final qualifying lap to take a record seventh pole in Melbourne and lay down a marker for the 2018 World Championship. However, teammate Valtteri Bottas will start from the pits after crashing out in the final session.
Hamilton will be joined on the front row by the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, with Sebastian Vettel pairing up with Max Verstappen on row two. Meanwhile, Haas consolidated a strong winter by locking out row three, albeit aided by the three-place grid penalty Daniel Ricciardo picked up in Friday's second practice.
On a track best described as green after an autumn shower this morning, the first qualifying session of the season came down to the last couple of minutes as the track finally gripped after a slippy start. At the front, it was business as usual for Lewis Hamilton, who started the day with a 1:22.8. The Ferrari pair were not too far behind, with Raikkonen setting the early pace. However, the focus, as always this early on a Saturday, was at the back of the grid, and it was the usual suspects who failed to make the second session. Brendon Hartley came close in his Honda-powered Toro Rosso. Behind him, were the Sauber pair, who’ll be happy not to be sat on the back row as many predicted. Sergey Sirotkin ended his debut qualifying session last but one, while Pierre Gasly, whose final flying lap ended in the gravel, brought up the rear.
Q2 got underway with Mercedes once again setting down their marker as Hamilton topped the charts a full half a second ahead of the chasing pack. However, teammate Bottas was off the pace in fourth. Once again, the Red Bulls looked third best and the McLaren drivers put in some impressive times early on. Meanwhile, both Renaults compromised their first runs with nasty lock ups.
With the sky darkening, everyone came out for one last run. The big losers (and possibly surprise of the day) were Force India, with Perez and Ocon finishing 13th and 15th, respectively. However, it was the same last season, so it might be too early to write them off just yet. Neither McLaren progressed into the final shootout although Alonso seemed very pleased with his 11th place. Having already stated that Australia might be ‘a world of pain’ before improvement in Bahrain, the new Renault power appears to be working. Also taking an early bath was 14th place Lance Stroll, who took the tried and untested Gasly line on his final run.
The key points to take away from the middle session were the pace of both the Haas’ and the Renaults (once they got their tyres rolling smoothly), and a final push from Sebastian Vettel to top the charts with a time of 1:21.9.
As the sun set over Q3, no one had set a time when Valtteri Bottas' slide into the tyre wall on the first corner drew the first red flag of the day. With most of his rear wing scattered over the track, it was game over for the Finn. This was potentially a double blow for Mercedes, as Hamilton had already started his first flying lap, putting more wear on a prime set of tyres. When the session restarted with 9:47 on the clock, time was running out for those wanting to complete two runs.
Timing couldn’t have be closer for the remaining five leaders on their first runs. Hamilton set the pace with a 1:22.05, Vettel went purple until the end of his run, while Max Verstappen grabbed third place, just six-hundredths off Hamilton. When Raikkonen and Ricciardo followed, there was just 0.3s separating them all.
Alas, stats can be misleading. Hamilton pulled out a spectacular second run, smashing all times to set a lap of 1:21.1. Raikkonen kept his impressive form going, beating Vettel to second by a mere hundredth of a second, but still over 0.6s behind the Mercedes. Verstappen came in fourth, with the two Haas cars blocking out the Renaults to claim fifth and sixth.
|4||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||01:21.88||0.715|
|5||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||01:22.15||0.988|
|10||77||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||No Time|
|13||11||Sergio Perez||Force India||01:24.01||2.841|
|15||31||Esteban Ocon||Force India||01:24.79||3.622|
|16||28||Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso||01:24.53||3.368|
|20||10||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso||01:25.30||4.131|
Note: Ricciardo penalised three grid places for speeding under red flags in practice.
All data taken from Formula One website here