Mercedes stamps advantage in Melbourne qualifying

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Mercedes had put an end to doubts that the team might struggle to beat Ferrari. As Hamilton took pole for the Australian Grand Prix and Bottas second, their 0.7s advantage over the competition it particularly telling.

Qualifying kicked off with Norris heading out on track, ahead of Robert Kubica. Albon was also out early, making it a newbie first few minutes.

Both Ferrari drivers joined a little bit later, opting to use medium tyres while every other team immediately went for the softs. So did Mercedes, and it was therefore Hamilton and Bottas who controlled the timesheet until the closing minutes, when those in danger went out again to secure themselves a spot into Q2.

Leclerc then switched to the softs, and in the dying minute jumped to the top of the timesheet. That was just the beginning of a very intense minute of improvements. Norris surprised everyone by going 8th fastest as well, with Giovinazzi also making sure he went through.

This dropped Ricciardo and Albon in the danger zone, but they too improved, leaving Stroll, Gasly, Sainz and both Williams out and eliminated from Q1.

In Q2 it was Hamilton who went out first, a sight we've come accustomed to during 2018. Vettel and most others were quick to join him, all obviously on the soft tyres.

Leclerc was first to show his pace with 1m21.739, but Binotto soon shook his head. The gesture was telling, as moments later, Bottas blew that out of the water with a 0.6s improvement. Hamilton ended up slower than the Ferrari man, but still ahead of Vettel who only managed 1m21.912.

Verstappen was a bit late to the party, but he snuck into second.

3 minutes from the end, many returned to the track, and Hamilton corrected his sluggish first lap with a 1m21.014 to easily top the timesheet, ahead of Bottas who had also improved. Verstappen and the Ferrari's didn't improve, with Vettel notable making a bumpy ride through the grass and subsequently deciding to return to the pits.

Improvements from the Haas drivers saw them mix it up between Ferrari, with Grosjean going 5th fastest, and Magnussen 7th.

Raikkonen secured himself of a spot in Q3 with 8th, followed by impressive laps from Norris and Perez to also make it through into Q3.

In the final shootout, Grosjean and Magnussen set the first laps, but they did so with used tyres. Unsurprisingly, they got overshadowed rapidly by Mercedes, Ferrari and Verstappen.

Hamilton's first lap was once again less than optimal, resulting in a 0.457s deficit over his team mate. It as still good enough for provisional second, as Vettel and Leclerc were more than 6 tenths down.

Hamilton's second flyer had a really strong start, and combined with a strong final sector, he snatched pole from his team mate by 0.112s. Bottas crucially failed to improve his own time due to a bad S3.

Neither Ferrari improved enough in the second run to gain a position, but it was Max Verstappen, the last one to cross the finish line, to make an tangible improvement and get into 4th, in between both Ferrari's.

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