Lewis Hamilton claiming pole position at the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix should seemingly no longer be a surprise after the Mercedes driver achieved the feat for an incredible eighth time at the Albert Park circuit.
Yet the Briton richly deserved all the plaudits showered upon him, pulling out all stops to beat teammate Valtteri Bottas who had obliterated the 5.3-kilometre circuit’s qualifying lap record on his first run in Q3. Hamilton, who struggled with front brake warm-up on his first flying lap, regrouped for his final run and posted an eye-watering time of 1:20.486 which was over half a second quicker than his pole-winning lap a year ago.
For Bottas, who was psychologically pummeled by Hamilton last season, the Finn could only take consolation in helping the Silver Arrows securing another front-row lockout, which was the team’s 60th among its 102 pole positions.
Additionally, Mercedes had utterly vanquished Ferrari – whom many had predicted had the fastest car after pre-season testing – and left the Italian team reeling. Sebastian Vettel finished third-fastest, but a whopping 0.7 seconds off Hamilton’s ultimate pace.
Even Mercedes wasn’t expecting such a result, with both Hamilton and Bottas expressing shock at the margin they had over the rest of the field.
Max Verstappen managed to split the Ferraris in his Red Bull Racing Honda, claiming fourth-fastest on his final lap to demote Charles Leclerc to fifth on the grid.
The Haas duo of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen led the midfield charge by securing sixth and seventh on the grid respectively.
While there were rightly plaudits for Hamilton and Bottas’ stunning efforts, the surprise performer in qualifying was McLaren rookie Lando Norris, who made it into the top-ten shootout for pole on his debut with a superb final lap in Q2.
The British youngster led Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) and Sergio Pérez (Racing Point), although both drivers only opted to make one run in Q3 which could give them a tyre advantage in Sunday’s race.
Norris was the sole Renault-powered driver to make it into Q3, as embarrassingly the factory Renaults of Nico Hülkenberg and crowd favourite Daniel Ricciardo were both eliminated from proceedings in the second phase of qualifying. The duo only narrowly missed out, falling short of making a shot at the top-ten by less than four-hundredths of a second.
Alexander Albon impressed on his Formula 1 qualifying debut and will start the race from thirteenth place in his Toro Rosso, two spots ahead of his more experienced teammate Daniil Kvyat. Antonio Giovinazzi was sandwiched between the pair in the second Alfa Romeo.
The opening qualifying session was a frenetic affair, with everyone with the exception of Ferrari running exclusively on Pirelli’s Soft compound tyres to try and challenge for a berth in Q2. In the end, those who made it through lapped within one second of Charles Leclerc’s fastest time of 1:22.017, with the Monégasque driver marking the first time Hamilton head been beaten in any session this weekend. Alas, it would not stay that way for long.
Lance Stroll, who was only one second off Leclerc’s pace-setting time, spearheaded the list of five drivers who were knocked out after the opening 18 minutes of qualifying. Surprisingly, he was joined by Pierre Gasly (Red Bull Racing) and Carlos Sainz Jr. (McLaren), who both had unexpectedly early baths.
Gasly’s elimination was put down to a poor strategy call on the pit wall, with the Red Bull Racing team electing to only send the Frenchman out for one run.
Sainz had his fastest lap compromised by Robert Kubica, who scraped the wall exiting Turn 10 and gave his Williams a right-rear puncture. The Pole took a trip through the Turn 11 run-off, with the resulting yellow flags putting paid to Sainz’s chances of making it off the penultimate row of the grid.
Kubica’s puncture guaranteed he would start from last place on his return to Grand Prix racing, although in truth the one-time Grand Prix winner was never going to get off the back row of the grid such is the poor pace of the Williams FW42. Teammate George Russell was an unrepresentative 1.7 seconds quicker and secured nineteenth on the grid, meaning that the field’s three rookie drivers all outperformed their more experienced teammates.
|FORMULA 1 ROLEX AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX 2019 – QUALIFYING|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:20.486|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:20.598||+ 0.112|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:21.190||+ 0.704|
|4.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:21.320||+ 0.834|
|5.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:21.442||+ 0.956|
|6.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:21.826||+ 1.340|
|7.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:22.099||+ 1.613|
|8.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:22.304||+ 1.818|
|9.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:22.314||+ 1.828|
|10.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:22.781||+ 2.295|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|11.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:22.562||+ 1.548|
|12.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:22.570||+ 1.556|
|13.||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:22.636||+ 1.622|
|14.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:22.714||+ 1.700|
|15.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:22.774||+ 1.760|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|16.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:23.017||+ 1.000|
|17.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:23.020||+ 1.003|
|18.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:23.084||+ 1.067|
|19.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:24.360||+ 2.343|
|20.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:26.067||+ 4.050|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 lap time of 1:21.014 posted by Lewis Hamilton
** Denotes gap to fastest Q1 lap time of 1:22.017 posted by Charles Leclerc
- To be advised
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