Lewis Hamilton confirmed he is the man to beat by taking pole in an eventful Australian Grand Prix qualifying session that saw Daniel Ricciardo crash out.
The Mercedes driver posted a 1:22.188s under grey skies at Albert Park to claim his 62nd career pole.
Hamilton was only 1.6s faster than the pole time of last year despite the sport’s sweeping regulation changes.
Ferrari managed to split the Mercedes with Sebastian Vettel posting a last gasp effort to emerge just 0.268s behind Hamilton, while the Brit’s new team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third.
It proved to be a disastrous session for Australia’s Ricciardo who suffered an uncharacteristic spin at the start of Q3.
The Red Bull driver lost control at Turn 14 which resulted in his RB13 sliding through the gravel trap and into the barriers, damaging the rear of the car.
The incident brought out the red flags with eight minutes of the session remaining.
“I just lost it coming into 14, the rear started to come around, I tried to catch it but it was already gone,” said Ricciardo
“I think its not a good excuse at all but as a result of more downforce and more grip, when you do lose it, it is more violent.
“It is frustrating of course, I would have liked to be top-five.
“Obviously I’ve created a bit more work for myself and unfortunately for the mechanics tonight, I feel for them, I know they have had a long week.
“It has been pretty tough getting the cars prepared for the weekend.
“We will turn it into a bit of agro tomorrow and hopefully I can buy them all a few stubbies tomorrow after hopefully a better race.
“I am comfortable in (the car), I don’t tend to find myself in the barriers too much, it is a bit of an odd sight to see me backing into the tyres.
“The cars have more grip, it makes them stick to the track easier but when it goes wrong they do bite a bit harder.”
Once the session resumed, Kimi Raikkonen managed to come through in fourth ahead of the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Romain Grosjean produced an encouraging display for Haas F1 in sixth with the Frenchman joined on the third row by Williams’ Felipe Massa.
Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) and Ricciardo rounded out the top 10.
Force India’s Sergio Perez just missed out on securing a spot in Q3 in 11th just 0.010s faster than his former team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, now at Renault.
Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso managed to haul his power-sapped McLaren to 13th in front of Esteban Ocon (Force India) and Marcus Ericsson (Sauber).
Antonio Giovinazzi narrowly missed out on securing a surprise place in Q2 after he was pipped in the final stages of Q1 by his Sauber team-mate Ericsson.
The Italian was promoted to the Sauber race seat today after Pascal Wherein declared himself unfit to compete for the remainder of the weekend.
Giovinazzi will start from 16th ahead of the Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.
The final row of the grid will be filled by Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and the Williams of Lance Stroll.
Debutant Stroll was issued a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox after final practice.
Result: Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix Qualifying
|5||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1:23.485||1.297|
|8||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||1:24.487||2.299|
|9||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:24.512||2.324|
|10||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||no Q3 time|
|11||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:25.081||2.893|
|14||Esteban Ocon||Force India||1:25.568||3.380|
|20||Lance Stroll||Williams||1:27.143 five-place grid penalty||4.955|