Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton continued his brilliant qualifying run Down Under, taking his fourth consecutive Australian Grand Prix pole on Saturday with a dominating performance at the Albert Park track, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel a close second.
Valterri Bottas of Mercedes gave a strong showing on his debut for the front-runners, consistently churning out fast times right from the first session of qualifying to the final one and was unlucky to be pipped to the front row by Vettel.
Ferrari, initially started both their drivers on the supersoft tyres, with the rest of the pack all choosing the fastest option, the ultrasofts, but made the shift to the ultras with Kimi Raikkonen (eventually finishing fourth) in particular, struggling to come to terms on a cloudy day in Melbourne.
There was bad news for Force India, however, as neither Sergio Perez or Esteban Ocon could make the cut for Q3, but the biggest disappointment of the day was for the home fans as their favourite, Daniel Ricciardo crashed his Red Bull at turn 14 in Q3 to end up 10th.
Max Verstappen, F1’s rising star, gave Red Bull something to cheer with a competent display to come in 5th place ahead of Romain Grosjean in the Haas, who placed a creditable 6th on the grid ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa.
Apart from Mercedes and Ferrari dominating the top four spots, the fact that Red Bull’s feeder team, Toro Rosso managed to squeeze both their drivers, Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kyvat in the top 10 was a major talking points as the young drivers acquitted themselves well on the fast track.
While much of pre-season talk had been about Ferrari finally emerging as contenders after an extended period of under-performance, the Maranello-based outfit proved that they will be pushing Mercedes all the way this year with a strong showing at the season opener (coincedntally their first front-row since the 2015 Singapore GP).
For Mercedes, the pressing question had been whether Bottas would be able to fill 2016 champion Nico Rosberg’s shoes and if Saturday’s showing is anything to go by, the Finnish driver may just turn out to be the surprise package of the year.
The top 10 drivers as they will line up on Sunday:
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Valterri Bottas Mercedes
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5. Max Verstappen Red Bull
6. Romain Grosjean Haas
7. Felipe Mass Williams
8. Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso
9. Danil Kyvat Toro Rosso
10. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull