Tuesday 16 January 2018

Lewis Hamilton sends out warning signal to rivals with stunning pole position in Australia

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain leaves his team garage during the qualifying session for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain leaves his team garage during the qualifying session for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car on the way to taking pole in the qualifying session for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne

Ian Parkes

Lewis Hamilton began the new Formula One season in stunning fashion with a crushing qualifying performance to grab the fourth pole position of his career for the Australian Grand Prix.

It is clear that after a dominant 2014 from Mercedes they will again be the team to beat in 2015 as reigning champion Hamilton blasted his way to top spot on the grid at Melbourne's Albert Park, putting even team-mate Nico Rosberg in the shade.

Hamilton finished with a lap of one minute 26.327secs, a staggering 0.6secs clear of Rosberg as Mercedes locked out the front row, with Williams' Felipe Massa the best of the rest, but 1.4secs down on the 30-year-old Briton.

Ferrari duo in new boy and four-times champion Sebastian Vettel and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen line up fourth and fifth, with Valtteri Bottas sixth in his Williams.

After engine woes in practice on Friday, home hero Daniel Ricciardo starts seventh for Red Bull, followed by Toro Rosso rookie Carlos Sainz Jr, with Lotus pair Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado also in the top 10.

But on a dismal day for fellow Briton and 2009 world champion Jenson Button, the 35-year-old will start on the back row of the grid.

With Manor failing to take part in qualifying due to insurmountable difficulties, Button and team-mate Kevin Magnussen - standing in for the absent Fernando Alonso - will line up 17th and 18th respectively.

Turning to Honda as power-unit supplier from this year, the Japanese manufacturing giant's system has been found to be severely lacking so far.

Button finished a yawning 2.836secs slower than Hamilton at the end of the initial session, underlining how much work Honda have to do to close the gap, with Magnussen a further 0.6secs adrift.

Ahead of the McLaren pair will be Sauber duo Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson in 11th and 16th respectively.

The Brazilian and Swede were cleared to compete this weekend after last season's reserve driver Giedo van der Garde dropped his legal case against Sauber on Saturday morning after overnight discussions between lawyers.

Max Verstappen, who on Sunday will become the youngest driver in F1 history at the age of 17, starts 12th in his Toro Rosso, a place up on the man whose shoes he filled in Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat.

Like McLaren, Force India are another team with plenty of work to do if they are to improve with Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez 14th and 15th.

It was a qualifying that only contained 18 cars as Manor failed to make it out on track, with drivers Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi, along with the team's mechanics looking on from the garage.

Sporting director Graeme Lowdon confirmed to Press Association Sport the team had "made enormous strides in the last 24 hours compared to our situation on Friday".

The South Yorkshire-based marque only emerged from administration three weeks after being saved by energy entrepreneur Stephen Fitzpatrick.

Despite strenuous efforts over the past few days to get their car on track, the team have ultimately been beaten by numerous issues which have included having to build up their technical infrastructure from scratch.

Prior to coming out of administration, Manor were on the brink of selling their assets via an auction, so were forced to wipe all the hard drives of their computers, losing valuable data.

Attempting to rebuild their systems from the ground up has proven time consuming and difficult, and in the end too big a hurdle to overcome, leaving them now to focus on the next race in Malaysia.

It was the 39th pole of Hamilton's career, and his third in the last four years Down Under, to which he said: "It's been a great start to the weekend.

"There's been a big rush and huge effort from the team to give us this performance, so I'm incredibly blessed at all the hard work that has gone on."

Hamilton, who was on pole last year but retired early with a power-unit problem, added: "We had a difficult start to the season last year, so I'm definitely hoping for a better start for both cars to succeed this year.

"Nevertheless the race is still going to be a huge challenge, and hopefully it will be a good fight with Nico."

Rosberg, who ran wide at one point in the first of his two runs in the final session, conceded Hamilton was the better man.

The German said: "Lewis has been in impressive form, he did an awesome job, and he nailed it all the time.

"Speed-wise I didn't get it together, but it's still a pleasurable car to drive and it's really great to see us leading the pack."

Whilst Mercedes appear to be in a league of their own already, Massa feels the battle behind between Williams and Ferrari will be a good one.

"It was a very tricky qualifying, especially with four cars fighting and with similar lap times between me, Seb, Kimi and Valtteri," the Brazilian said.

"I'm pretty happy I did a good lap, my best of the day at the end. I prepared everything for that.

"Tomorrow will be a big fight with Ferrari, and I hope we can do a good job."

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