Melbourne: Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton will start today's season-opening Australian Grand Prix from pole ahead of Nico Rosberg, after the dominant Mercedes duo were allowed to romp unchallenged to a front-row lockout in an anti-climactic qualifying session.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates after taking pole position during the Australian GP in Melbourne on Saturday. pic/AFP
Hamilton lapped Melbourne's 5.3 kilometer-long Albert Park circuit in one minute 23.837 seconds to take his 50th career pole about three-tenths of a second ahead of Rosberg.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was about a further half a second adrift in third.
Yesterday's qualifying session was run to a new 'rolling-elimination' format introduced this season, aimed at wrong-footing teams in an attempt to mix up the grid. But, even as the new format livened up the first two parts of qualifying, it controversially backfired during the final pole-position shootout phase of the hour-long session.
Assured of a second-row lockout, Ferrari duo Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, who many were hoping could challenge Mercedes' dominance, chose to remain in the pits following their initial runs during qualifying's final 14-minute phase.
Williams driver Felipe Massa, Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and the Toro Rosso pair of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz also did not go out after their first runs.
Vettel not surprised
"I don't see the point why everybody is surprised now," Vettel, who had changed out of his overalls into jeans and a jumper, said in the post-qualifying press conference.
"We all said what's going to happen and it happened. There's no cars to watch and in the end they (the fans) want to see Lewis, Nico, Kimi, whoever pushing to the end of the session when the track is supposed to best.
"I don't think we need the criticism now, we had the criticism already. But, surely it is the wrong way to go," the four-time world champion added.
His former team-boss Christian Horner of Red Bull went further, telling the BBC that the sport needed to apologise to its fans.
"It didn't really work, that qualifying for me," Horner said. "We tried it, didn't work. I think we should apologise to the fans for not putting on a show."