Formula One: Lewis Hamilton takes pole

Updated: Mar 25, 2018, 13:15 IST | Abhishek Takle

World champion Lewis Hamilton claimed the first pole position of the 2018 Formula One season in the dying seconds of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton after claiming pole in Melbourne on Saturday. Pic/Getty Images
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton after claiming pole in Melbourne on Saturday. Pic/Getty Images

World champion Lewis Hamilton claimed the first pole position of the 2018 Formula One season, unleashing a dazzling display of speed that stunned his rivals in the dying seconds of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver, who goes into the season as favourite to clinch a fifth world championship, lit up the timing screens with a late one minute 21.164-second lap, the fastest ever around Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.

That put him a gaping 0.664 seconds clear of his closest challenger Kimi Raikkonen, who will line up alongside the Briton on the front row. The Finn’s Ferrari team-mate and 2017 title runner-up Sebastian Vettel was third 0.674 seconds off the pace.

Yesterday’s pole was the 73rd of Hamilton’s career. The 33-year-old is already Formula One’s most successful qualifier, having surpassed Michael Schumacher’s previous benchmark of 68 pole positions last year. He now also holds the record for most poles at Albert Park, with yesterday’s effort his seventh around the 5.3-kilometer long circuit.

“You would think it had become the norm with all the success we've had these last years, but it's still just as intense,” said Hamilton whose Mercedes team have swept to four straight constructors' titles.

“My heart is racing. I'm always striving for perfection and that was as close as I could get today."

Qualifying offered the first chance of the season for fans to see how the teams all stacked up against each other.

The initial runs in the final pole-position shoot-out phase of qualifying fuelled hopes of a three way battle between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull at the front.

Hamilton held provisional pole after the initial laps, but only just, with Vettel a marginal 0.034 seconds adrift and Max Verstappen 0.061 seconds off the pace. He then dashed all hopes of an evenly matched contest, pulling out all the stops and banging in the lap that clinched him pole.

Vettel, who won at Albert Park last year after starting alongside pole-sitter Hamilton, and Raikkonen were refusing to write off their chances, however.

Mercedes are known to switch the engine on to a more powerful qualifying-only mode — dubbed the ‘party mode’ this year — with their advantage shrinking on race day as they opt for a more normal setting.

“Yeah, I hope they did turn it on today, as that means they have to turn it off tomorrow,” said Vettel.

“I think it’s very close. I think we saw yesterday in the long runs that the pace is very close, so let’s see.”

Hamilton denied turning the engine up between the two runs with team boss Toto Wolff putting it down to the Briton simply getting the car and tyres into the sweet spot.

“What were you doing before?” Vettel asked kicking off an amusing round of banter between the two four-time champions who, in an unprecedented scenario in Formula One history, will be going head-to-head for a fifth title.

“I was waiting to put a good lap in, wipe the smile off your face!” Hamilton shot back.

Verstappen had to eventually settle for fourth, with Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo fifth. The Australian, however, will start his home race eighth after copping a three-place grid penalty for speeding under red flags in practice on Friday. Both Red Bulls have opted to start the race on the more durable supersoft tyre as opposed to their rivals who will start today’s race on the ultra-soft.

Kevin Magnussen will instead start fifth for Haas ahead of team-mate Romain Grosjean as the American team continued to turn heads with their speed after chalking up their best ever qualifying result.

Nico Hulkenberg qualified eighth but will start seventh on account of Ricciardo’s penalty. His Renault team-mate Carlos Sainz will start ninth.

Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne just failed to make it through into the top-ten shootout in McLaren’s first qualifying session since ditching Honda for Renault power. The pair set the 11th and 12th fastest times.

Valtteri Bottas provided the biggest drama of the session, crashing his Mercedes in the final phase of qualifying without setting a time. The incident brought a brief red flag.

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