Lewis Hamilton stormed to an incredible sixth successive Australian Grand Prix pole position to lay down an ominous marker in the defence of his world title.
The reigning world champion’s 1m20.486s lap record was just enough to pip teammate Valtteri Bottas by just 0.112s with arch rival Sebastian Vettel lining up third on the grid ahead of Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) March 16, 2019
McLaren new boy Lando Norris put an impressive lap on his grand prix debut to line up eighth on the grid with Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez rounding off the top ten.
But there was desperate disappointment for Daniel Ricciardo, making his Renault debut in front of his home crowd, the Australian’s time only good enough for 12th on the grid.
“The second lap was definitely better than the first, which is not always the case and it’s always quite difficult in the second lap to pull that amount of time out but the first lap I made a mistake which is quite unusual for me,” said Hamilton afterward. “But we just kept working away, chipping away at our pace and balance throughout the weekend and coming from Barcelona we made some really big steps forward in the last couple of days with set-up and we brought that here and it seems to have worked.
“There was also some work done after the weeks where we analyse everything and made some small corrections but yeah, I was really not expecting to see the performance difference we had here. It had been so close throughout the weekend and it’s amazing to see how close the top 16 are, less than a second between us all at one point and that’s a real positive for the rule regulations. It’s difficult to grasp after a session like that exactly what happened but I’m very proud to be up here and very grateful for everyone who has worked so hard throughout the winter and there really couldn’t be a better way to start the year.”
The moment @LewisHamilton…
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 16, 2019
Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly was the highest profile casualty of Q1, the Frenchman remarkably only good enough for 17th with Lance Stroll also a surprise omission from the rest of the afternoon, his Racing Point will start a place above Gasly.
If Gasly was the big casualty of Q1, Australian race fans will have been heartbroken to see Ricciardo eliminated from Q2, a 1m22.921s mark only good enough for P12 on the grid, a place behind teammate Nico Hulkenberg.
Vettel survived a huge scare when clattering over the grass at Turn 11, just rescuing his Ferrari from potential catastrophe. Yet the German refused to say that it had any part in his session, instead
“I tried obviously to find the limits in Q2 and went a little bit over the limit but fortunately the car was fine overall but unfortunately it didn’t work out how I wanted. I’m certainly surprised (by the gap to Mercedes) I think everybody is, probably even themselves.
“I think yesterday we didn’t have a good day, today felt better. But in terms of gap and pace it was very similar, so for sure there is some homework for us to do to understand. I still think we have a great car and we should be better than so I’m looking forward tomorrow. Over 58 laps we have time to get a proper read of where we are but certainly Mercedes are the clear favourites. We have to live with it today, but tomorrow is a new day. We have done it before and here especially, so we will see.”
And despite Stroll’s early emission from qualifying, there was something to cheers about back at the Acronis Mission Control Centre in Silverstone, Perez giving himself a decent shot at points on race day.
“Making the top ten is a great way to start the season,” said Perez afterward. “We did a great job throughout qualifying and I was really pleased with my lap in Q2. The key today was to avoid mistakes and be consistent. It will be interesting to see where we stand in the race but it’s never easy to overtake on this track so starting in the top ten is important. Hopefully we can hold position and make up some ground at the start. As I always say, it doesn’t matter where you start the season, but where you finish. There is great potential in this car and I’m confident we can keep improving as the year goes on.”
— SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team (@RacingPointF1) March 16, 2019