Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team made a clear high-speed statement of intent on Saturday when they confirmed their Albert Park supremacy by claiming a record-breaking pole position for Sunday’s Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix.
The three-time champion driver and his champion team smashed a series of lap records as he led the way to his fourth successive Melbourne pole and the 62nd of his career. It was his sixth overall at Albert Park and fifth in a row.
“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far,” said Hamilton, who will have four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel alongside him in a Ferrari at the start of Sunday’s 58-laps race. “I’m incredibly proud of my team.
“This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone and the guys have worked so hard to make the car what it is today.
“Valtteri (Bottas) did a great job too in his first qualifying session for the team. It’s quite close. I think it’s going to be close this year…”
Vettel was 0.268 seconds down on Hamilton’s final best record lap in one minute and 22.1888 seconds – the fastest of all time at Albert Park – and said he felt that he could have been quicker, but for a slight mistake.
“OK guys, I lost a bit in Turn One and Turn Nine I tried a little bit too hard,” he told his team. “Anyway, I’m not sure it would have been enough. Great job.”
His consolation was that Ferrari qualified on the front row of the grid for the first time since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix.
Hamilton’s new Mercedes team-mate Bottas, who moved from Williams to replace retired 2016 champion German Nico Rosberg, was third fastest, after also setting a record lap along the way, ahead of fellow-Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari.
Dutchman Max Verstappen, still only 19, was fifth for Red Bull, but his team-mate Australian Daniel Ricciardo crashed out of contention in Q3 when he lost control of his car.
All of the top five drivers clocked times that bettered Vettel’s lap record set for Red Bull in 2011 – absolute proof that this year’s new generation ‘fatter and faster’ cars are the quickest ever seen at the Australian Grand Prix.
Ricciardo had hopes of joining the pace-setters until his accident and he will start from 10th place on the grid. “I lost it going into Turn 14,” he said. “It happened quickly and I could feel the rear was starting to come around.
“I tried to catch it, but it came round and as the result of more down-force and more grip, when you lose it, it’s a lot more violent and aggressive. So, it caught me out.”
Bottas, whose previous best grid spot in Australia was 15th, said he was disappointed to qualify only third – and off the front row – in his first race for Mercedes. “Third is not idea and in general I’m not happy about the result,” he said.
“I didn’t quite get any perfect laps in so I’m not that satisfied, but tomorrow is the day that matters. In the race starts, I think we seem to be quite strong.”
Mindful that he suffered a poor start and opening lap in last year’s race after starting from pole, Hamilton added: “Tomorrow (Sunday) is about putting in all the work that went on over the winter – so I want to make sure I get a good night’s sleep and come back stronger than ever.”
A beaming and happy Vettel, who had earlier chatted with Hollywood film star Australian Nicole Kidman in the Ferrari garage, said he believed he could “do something” in the race.
“We have a good car and we are working well as a team and things are improving. We had a mixed day yesterday (Friday), but our confidence in the car was there from testing and we showed that today. I would have loved it, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs… Lewis did a great lap.”