Hamilton grabs pole, Vettel to start second
Lewis Hamilton took an expected pole position for him and the Mercedes AMG F1 team at Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia. He will be joined by the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel on tomorrow's front row on the grid, with behind them their respective team mates.
Qualifying kicked off with both McLarens coming out on track as soon as the session started, opting to do a single installation lap before returning to the pits.
Due to the short circuit, many more soon followed, with all but Ferrari opting for the ultra soft tyres. Ferrari themselves used super softs, enabling Vettel to set the fastest time as soon as he completed a lap, 5 minutes into the session. Sainz, Kvyat, Grosjean, Magnussen all failed to improve on that, despite the faster tyres.
Sergio Perez in the pink Force India was the first to go faster, following by both Mercedes AMG cars. The latter comfortably went more than a second faster than the rest. Both went on to do an additional lap, with Hamilton taking the advantage by 4 tenths after he was narrowly beat by Valtteri Bottas on the first outing.
At the same time, Vettel remained on track and improved another half a second to jump ahead of Perez. Daniel Ricciardo settled in fourth for Red Bull Racing while his team mate, Max Verstappen, struggled, but made it to 8th on his second attempt.
Meanwhile in the elimination zone, Stoffel Vandoorne was told to return to the pits due to a fuel flow issue while on his third lap. The Belgian returned to the track extremely late in the session, following Alonso's lead on the track. The McLaren duo appeared to push hard, with Alonso setting the 12th fastest time thus far, and Vandoorne up from last to 18th. The Belgian said afterwards on the radio tyre warmup was a little bit disturbed due to being a little bit too close behind Alonso.
Stroll and Palmer were slowest and are set to start from the back row of the grid.
In Q2, Mercedes again took charge early on. Both Ferrari drivers turned up on track a little bit later and slotted in at 2 tenths behind the Mercedes, of which Bottas was fastest.
With everybody now on ultra softs, Ricciardo seemed to be the fastest man behind Ferrari and comfortably faster that his own team mate. In fact, in Q2, Ricciardo was 0.5s slower than Vettel, but 0.7s faster than Verstappen, who still ended up 6th fastest.
In the closing minutes, Grosjean managed to jump up to 8th, ahead of both Toro Rosso cars. This put Perez 11th, ahead of Hulkenberg, Alonso, Ocon and Ericsson.
When Q3 arrived, the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers were all eager to get out on track. Bottas was first to cross the line and quickly saw his time improved by Vettel by a mere 2 thousandths of a second. Lewis Hamilton finished his first lap another 10 seconds later but was 3 tenths clear of the rest.
At the time when Raikkonen completed his first lap, 9 tenths slower than Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo was a little optimistic through turn 14 and slid off the track sideways. He went through the gravel and bumped rearwards into the tyre barriers, breaking off the rear wing and effectively ending his qualifying session. A red flag was subsequently required to get the car out of the way, before running could proceed 5 minutes later.
Romain Grosjean was the first to get out as the session restarted, using the clear track to go 5th fastest which would eventually become 6th as Verstappen logically qualified ahead of him later on.
At the very front, all four drivers managed to find further laptime improvements on the final attempts. Bottas was once again the first man to complete his lap, at the time going fastest of all, despite locking up on two occasions during the lap. Hamilton once again found 3 tenths on his team mate later on whereas Vettel snuck in between the two Mercedes, shaping up a possible Mercedes - Ferrari battle for the early parts of the season.Results to follow...