Lewis Hamilton has dominated in qualifying for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix to claim his fourth pole position at the Albert Park circuit.
The reigning World Champion led a predictable Mercedes 1-2 in the Saturday afternoon session, beating an error-prone and frustrated teammate Nico Rosberg by almost six-tenths of a second.
The Englishman, who finished on top of the timesheets in final practice, comfortably headed proceedings across all three qualifying sessions and looked a clear favourite to secure the 39th pole position of his career.
Mercedes underscored its advantage over the rest of the field by running 1-2 in all three qualifying phases – as they have done in every session so far this weekend. Hamilton headed Rosberg by four-tenths of a second in Q1, but saw his advantage trimmed to two-tenths of a second to his teammate in the second phase of qualifying.
The final phase was all about the reigning champion, as he smashed the provisionally quickest time posted by Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen by a thumping 2.4 seconds. Rosberg wasn’t able to respond on his first run, abandoning his flying lap when he out-braked himself at Turn 15 and slid into the grass run-off.
He pitted for a new set of Soft Pirelli tyres, and posted a scrappy lap that was half-a-second down on Hamilton, only for the Englishman to rub further salt into the wounds by lowering the benchmark time even further to a 1:26.327.
As was expected, Rows 2 and 3 of the grid were claimed by the chasing Williams and Ferrari runners. Felipe Massa claimed the ‘best of the rest’ honours, although he was still almost 1.4 seconds down on Hamilton in the final reckoning and had to run 50% more laps than either Mercedes to achieve the feat.
The Brazilian veteran just edged out the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen – the former failed to improve his lap time on his second Q3 run – while Valtteri Bottas claimed sixth, throwing away a certain third place on the grid when he had a tank-slapper exiting the final corner. The Finn had just one run in Q3, suffering with successive brake lock-ups on his first run which spat him wide at Turns 1 and 3.
Barring a disaster for the top-three teams, the best that crowd favourite Daniel Ricciardo could hope for on home soil was seventh place, and the Australian duly delivered, recovering from a fraught final practice which saw him suffer a braking issue. The Perth driver was still some two seconds off the ultimate pace, just edging out Red Bull ‘B’ team rookie Carlos Sainz, who continued his trend of out-pacing teammate Max Verstappen in every session.
The Spanish youngster was impressively quick, if a little untidy, in the STR10 on his debut, spinning harmlessly for the second time this weekend at Turn 15 when he dropped a wheel on the dirt.
The two Lotus E23s rounded out the top ten, with Romain Grosjean comfortably clear of Pastor Maldonado on the stopwatch.
With qualifying missing both software-stymied Manor Marussias – who wouldn’t have been able to run anyway, given they hadn’t gone out in any practice session – the Q1 session would see just three runners knocked out.
That both down-on-power and rather ill-handling McLarens failed to make the qualifying cut was entirely predictable. Stand-in driver Kevin Magnussen finished slowest in his rebuilt MP4-30, six-tenths of a second down on teammate Jenson Button. Marcus Ericsson was the only other driver eliminated from the reckoning.
The battle for lower positions in Q2 was rather tighter, with those eliminated – Felipe Nasr, Max Verstappen, Daniil Kvyat and the Force Indias of Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez – covered by just 0.15 seconds.
Despite his lack of track time this weekend, Nasr’s performance was quite impressive in the Sauber and he once again comfortably outpaced teammate Ericsson.
Verstappen and Kvyat could consider themselves unlucky for different reasons. The former had a wild slide on his final flying lap at Turn 5, while Kvyat’s session was hampered by the fact that his Red Bull RB11 had just undergone repairs from an engine fire suffered in the preceding practice session.
Sunday’s 58-lap race gets underway at 4:00pm local time (GMT +11).
2015 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix – Qualifying Results:
|Top-10 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team F1W06||1:26.327||16|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team F1W06||1:26.921||+ 0.594||14|
|3.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||1:27.718||+ 1.391||21|
|4.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||1:27.757||+ 1.430||12|
|5.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||1:27.790||+ 1.463||17|
|6.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||1:28.087||+ 1.760||17|
|7.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||1:28.329||+ 2.002||16|
|8.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||1:28.510||+ 2.183||22|
|9.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||1:28.560||+ 2.233||22|
|10.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||1:29.480||+ 3.153||20|
|Eliminated in Q2||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**||Laps|
|11.||Felipe Nasr||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||1:28.800||+ 1.906||17|
|13.||Max Verstappen||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||1:28.868||+ 1.974||15|
|12.||Daniil Kvyat||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||1:29.070||+ 2.176||9|
|14.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08||1:29.208||+ 2.314||14|
|15.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08||1:29.209||+ 2.315||13|
|Eliminated in Q1||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*||Laps|
|16.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||1:31.376||+ 2.790||10|
|17.||Jenson Button||McLaren Honda MP4-30||1:31.422||+ 2.836||7|
|18.||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren Honda MP4-30||1:32.037||+ 3.451||8|
|Outside 107%||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*||Laps|
|NQ.||Will Stevens||Marussia Manor F1 Team Ferrari MR03||no time||0|
|NQ.||Roberto Merhi||Marussia Manor F1 Team Ferrari MR03||no time||0|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 qualifying time of 1:28.586 set by Lewis Hamilton
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 qualifying time of 1:26.894 set by Lewis Hamilton
Image via XPB Images