Lewis Hamilton has claimed record-breaking seventh pole position at the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix with a scintillating final lap in qualifying at Albert Park.

The Mercedes team’s fortunes were tempered however, by the prospect of a long night of repairs to teammate Valtteri Bottas’ car after the Finn crashed heavily at Turn 2 early in Q3.

Hamilton looked to be locked in a tight battle with both Ferraris and Red Bull Racing cars throughout qualifying. Quickest overall in Q1, he looked on course to repeat the dose in Q2 with a lap that was half a second clear of the field, only for Sebastian Vettel to narrowly edge him out in the dying moments.

It set up the prospect for a thrilling showdown in Q3, with pole position potentially up for grabs between the top three teams. Bottas removed himself from contention by crashing out at Turn 2 after running fractionally wide at the exit of Turn 1.

With the kerbside grass still damp from the day’s earlier rain, the momentary loss of traction was enough to spit the Finn into the tyres on the outside of the following left-hander. His Mercedes sustained heavy damage on its right hand side and with debris scattered across the circuit the session was briefly red-flagged so his battered car could be craned away.

Valtteri Bottas crash - 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Bottas’ wrecked Mercedes is craned away after his heavy Turn 2 crash. At best he will start from P10 but could take a grid penalty if he has damage to his gearbox. (Ignite Image)

That left just under eight minutes for the remaining Q3 runners to post a time, and Hamilton managed to equal his Q2 lap time – to the thousandth of a second – on his first run. Vettel and Max Verstappen were within one-tenth of a second, with the sister Ferrari and Red Bull cars of Kimi Räikkönen and Daniel Ricciardo only one-tenth behind.

Hamilton came out for one last run and simply scorched the opposition. Four-tenths quicker by the end of the first sector, he extended that by a further quarter of a second by the end of Sector 2 and another two-tenths of a second by the end of his lap.

Both Ferraris were able to improve, but neither Vettel nor Räikkönen had a real answer to the pace of the reigning champion.

Hamilton denied suggestions his F1W09 had a special ‘party mode’ setting on its Mercedes engine, although the dubious expressions of the Ferrari drivers sitting alongside him in the open press conference suggested otherwise.

Behind the top four, Max Verstappen claimed fourth on the grid – just 0.041 seconds slower than Vettel – ahead of teammate Ricciardo, who will serve a three-place grid penalty for a red flag infringement in Friday’s second practice session.

The two Haas Ferraris underlined the pre-season pace of the Ferrari-powered VF-18, with Kevin Magnussen surprising by edging out teammate Romain Grosjean to claim sixth on the grid. It was the team’s best qualifying performance in its history.

The two Renaults of Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the Q3 runners, although both were only narrowly behind their Haas rivals. Hülkenberg’s qualifying performance was a demonstration of a quick recovery after the German had a wild trip through the Turn 1 gravel during Q2 and only just scraped into the top-ten on his last lap.

Hülkenberg’s effort proved enough to deny McLaren’s Fernando Alonso a berth in Q3. The Spaniard performed solidly – better than he expected, he would later admit – to claim eleventh-fastest, just 0.15 seconds faster than teammate Stoffel Vandoorne.

The two Force India Mercedes’ of Sergio Pérez and teammate Esteban Ocon sandwiched Williams’ Lance Stroll at the bottom of the Q2 timesheets. Pérez would complain about being held up on his final flying lap, but the FIA Stewards look unlikely to make any investigation.

Stroll did well to make it into Q2 after a fairly scruffy opening segment in qualifying. The Canadian youngster eventually put in a stellar final lap to scrape into the top-fifteen, but couldn’t repeat the effort at the second time of asking and instead slid through the Turn 3 gravel on his last run.

That mistake was also repeated by Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly who locked up on his final flying lap in Q1 and qualified slowest of all, much to his frustration broadcast on the pit-to-car radio.

Joining him on the back row of the grid was Williams rookie Sergey Sirotkin, who couldn’t get his car hooked up in his first F1 qualifying appearance.

That meant the two unfancied Alfa Romeo Saubers managed to qualify off the back row. Marcus Ericsson put in an impressive lap midway through Q1 to put himself in the midfield, only to fall back when other drivers improved later in the session. The Swede qualified 0.09 seconds quicker than rookie teammate Charles Leclerc.

Brendon Hartley was the other driver to be knocked out in Q1, although frustratingly for the New Zealander his final flying lap fell short of a Q2 berth by just 0.029 seconds.

Sunday’s 58-lap Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place at 16:10 local time (GMT +11).

Q3 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap
1. Lewis Hamilton uk Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 1:21.164
2. Kimi Räikkönen fi Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:21.828 + 0.664
3. Sebastian Vettel de Scuderia Ferrari SF71H 1:21.838 + 0.674
4. Max Verstappen nl Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14 1:21.879 + 0.715
5. Daniel Ricciardo au Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14 1:22.152 + 0.988
6. Kevin Magnussen dk Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:23.187 + 2.023
7. Romain Grosjean fr Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18 1:23.339 + 2.175
8. Nico Hülkenberg de Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:23.532 + 2.368
9. Carlos Sainz Jr es Renault Sport F1 Team RS18 1:23.577 + 2.413
10. Valtteri Bottas fi Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09 no time
Q2 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap**
11. Fernando Alonso es McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:23.692 + 1.748
12. Stoffel Vandoorne ca McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33 1:23.853 + 1.909
13. Sergio Pérez Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:24.005 + 2.061
14. Lance Stroll Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:24.230 + 2.286
15. Esteban Ocon fr Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11 1:24.786 + 2.842
Q1 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap*
16. Brendon Hartley Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:24.532 + 1.708
17. Marcus Ericsson se Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:24.556 + 1.732
18. Charles Leclerc mc Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37 1:24.646 + 1.822
19. Sergey Sirotkin ru Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41 1:24.922 + 2.098
20. Pierre Gasly fr Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13 1:25.925 + 3.101

* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:22.824 posted by Lewis Hamilton
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:21.944 posted by Sebastian Vettel

Post-Qualifying Penalties:

  • Daniel Ricciardo (5th) will serve a 3-place grid penalty for breaching Article 31.6 of the F1 Sporting Regulations during FP2 – minimum lap speed during a red flag.

Images via Ignite Image / MotorsportM8

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.