F1: Hamilton takes pole in Australia to equal Senna, Schumacher feat
Sebastian Vettel was the closest challenger to the two silver cars but still fell a gaping 0.704 seconds short of Hamilton's benchmark
Lewis Hamilton swept to the first pole position of 2019 ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas, as Mercedes locked out the front row in dominant style for the season opening Australian Grand Prix. The reigning five-time world champion lapped the 5.3-kilometre long Albert Park in one minute 20.486 seconds in the glorious autumn sunshine, pipping his Finnish teammate by 0.112 seconds. Sebastian Vettel was the closest challenger to the two silver cars but still fell a gaping 0.704 seconds short of Hamilton's benchmark.
Hamilton, complaining of niggles with his right-front brake, had trailed Bottas after the first series of flying laps in the final phase of qualifying as it increasingly began to look like the battle for pole position would be fought out exclusively between the two Mercedes. He pulled out the stops when it really mattered, however, to claim his 84th career pole as well as a sixth in a row and eighth overall in Melbourne, equalling Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher's record of eight poles at a track.
"It's a bit difficult when you have a session like that to grasp exactly what just happened," Hamilton told reporters after the session. "But I'm very proud to be up here and very grateful for everyone who has worked so hard throughout the winter and this couldn't be a better way to start the year." The magnitude of Mercedes' advantage came as a surprise with Ferrari having cautiously been tipped as the team to beat on the back of pre-season testing form.
The German marque had dominated Friday practice, laying down an ominous marker, but there were suspicions, denied by Vettel, that their Italian rivals had been holding some speed in reserve by 'sandbagging'. Vettel, gunning for a third successive victory at Albert Park, appeared calm. Ferrari had some homework to do, he admitted. But while he tipped Mercedes as favourites for today's race, he appeared reasonably confident about his own prospects for the win. "We've got to live with it today," said Vettel, who won last year after a strategy blunder by Mercedes cost Hamilton an easy win.
"But tomorrow is a new day. "We've done it before, around here especially, so, we'll see." Behind the top-three, Max Verstappen, his Red Bull now powered by a Honda engine after the team's acrimonious split with Renault, was fourth. Charles Leclerc will start his first race for Ferrari in fifth. The Monegasque topped the timesheets in the middle phase of qualifying. But he ended the qualifying hour nearly a second off Hamilton's pace and almost 0.3 seconds slower than team-mate Vettel.
Romain Grosjean led the charge of the best-of-the-rest in sixth ahead of Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen. Rookie Lando Norris went an impressive seventh eighth-fastest for McLaren in his first-ever Formula One qualifying session. Kimi Raikkonen, who partnered Vettel at Ferrari last year, was ninth fastest for his new team Alfa Romeo. Sergio Perez driving for Racing Point, formerly Force India, rounded out the top-10.
The Williams outfit's troubles continued with both George Russel and Robert Kubica woefully off the pace. The pair propped up the timesheets with the British rookie setting the 19th-fastest time ahead of the returning Kubica, who was taking part in his first qualifying session after partially severing his right arm in a near-fatal rally crash eight years ago. Home hero Daniel Ricciardo could do no better than 12th. The Australian has moved from Red Bull to Renault for this season but was nevertheless disappointed not to make the top-ten and qualify behind new team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.
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