Lewis Hamilton opened his championship defense with a stunning pole position at the Australian Grand Prix as teammate Valtteri Bottas crashed out of qualifying.
The first runs of Q3 saw Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen all covered by just 0.061s as a real three-way fight for pole position appeared to be on the cards. However, Hamilton then hooked up a supreme lap – stating he was in the same engine mode as his first run – to post a 1m21.164s and take his seventh pole at this circuit by a massive 0.664s. It’s 1.024s better than the track-record 1m22.188s he ran to win last year’s pole.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 24, 2018
It will be Kimi Raikkonen alongside Hamilton on the front row, with the Finn pipping teammate Vettel by 0.01s, while Verstappen was just 0.051s further back in fourth place. Both Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo – fifth quickest but starting from eighth due to a grid penalty – will start on supersoft tires compared to its rivals on ultrasofts after using the harder compound in Q2.
Absent from the pole position battle was Valtteri Bottas, with Q3 halted after less than three minutes when he crashed heavily on the exit of Turn 2. The incident started when the Finn ran slightly wide out of Turn 1 and dropped his outside wheels on the grass, then lost control as he rejoined the track and slid wide into the tire barrier at high speed.
RED FLAG Q3
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 24, 2018
After the stoppage, Haas and Renault each completed just one run, and it was Kevin Magnussen who was best of the rest, beating teammate Romain Grosjean to sixth place as the pair locked out the third row after Ricciardo’s penalty. Nico Hulkenberg beat Carlos Sainz in eight and ninth respectively, though the German will move up a place when Ricciardo drops to P8 on the grid.
Both McLarens dropped out in the second part of qualifying but Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne – 11th and 12th, respectively – will be the first drivers to have a free choice of tires if the race is dry. The Spaniard was just 0.148s off a spot in Q3 – having failed to improve on his Q1 time – and a similar margin ahead of his teammate.
Sergio Perez was 0.15s slower than Vandoorne in 13th place as Force India continued to learn about an upgrade package, with Lance Stroll 14th in a solid performance for Williams. Stroll was half a second clear of Esteban Ocon, with the second Force India complaining he was impeded by Grosjean and ending up over 0.2s slower than his best lap in the first part of qualifying.
Preseason had pointed to a close midfield battle, and it was even closer than expected in the fight to get out of Q1 with Williams, Toro Rosso and Sauber all capable of making it through. Stroll pulled out an impressive lap to outqualify teammate Sergey Sirotkin by half a second and progress, beating Ocon’s Force India in the process.
Ocon scraped through in 15th, but he was just 0.029s clear of Brendon Hartley in the Toro Rosso and 0.053s ahead of Marcus Ericsson as Sauber showed a good step forward in performance compared to Friday.
Charles Leclerc was also within 0.1s of his teammate as he produced a solid first display, with Sirotkin 19th ahead of Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman had looked quicker than teammate Hartley during the session but locked up at Turn 3 on his final lap and ran through the gravel to ruin his chances of progressing.
|4||33||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||1:23.483||1:22.416||1:21.879||18|
|5*||3||Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer||1:23.494||1:22.897||1:22.152||17|
|13||11||Force India Mercedes||1:24.344||1:24.005||14|
|15||31||Force India Mercedes||1:24.503||1:24.786||16|
|16||28||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||1:24.532||8|
|20||10||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||1:25.295||7|
*Ricciardo penalized three grid places.