Lewis Hamilton set a new track record at Albert Park to claim his first pole position of the new season ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas as Ferrari failed to convert pre-season form into results in qualifying for tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix.
Across eight days of testing in Barcelona, the Italian squad looked to have found a distinct advantage over Mercedes, but in the time since the defending champions appear to have recovered their superiority.
“Coming from Barcelona, we made some really big steps forward and we brought that here and it seems to have worked,” said Hamilton afterwards. “There was also a little bit of work done after those two weeks, where we analysed everything and made some small corrections. I really was not expecting to see the performance difference that we have here. It had been so close throughout the whole weekend between us all.”
Hamilton set a new track record of 1:20.486 to claim his 84thcareer pole position. The lap saw him edge team-mate Bottas by just 0.112s after the Finn laid down a tough marker in the opening run of Q3.
The gap back to third-placed Vettel was significant, with the German seven tenths of a second off Hamilton’s pace.
“I don’t know. The car feels alright, it’s not that there is anything wrong… today I thought it was OK,” said Vettel. “I think compared to those guys we were just not quick enough. The race is tomorrow, though. I think we have a good car nonetheless. This track is very specific so not worried too much, but for sure it’s not great. I would have loved for it to be the other way round.”
Fourth-placed Max Verstappen handed Honda the power unit supplier’s best qualifying performance since the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix, when it was entered as a constructor. Red Bull Racing driver Verstappen beat new Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc by just over a tenths of a second.
Haas repeated its excellent Australiajn qualifying performance of 2018, with sixth-placed Romain Grosjean handing the US team best-of-the-rest status. The French driver finished two tenths of a second clear of P7 team-mate Kevin Magnussen.
McLaren rookie Lando Norris impressed hugely on his F1 qualifying debut, grabbing eighth position with a lap of 1:22.304. That put him ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen and Racing Point’s Sergio Perez.
The major shock in Q1 was the elimination of Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman logged a best time of 1:23.020 over his opening runs but in the closing stages Red Bull elected to keep its drivers in the garage. As the times tumbled, both Verstappen and Gasly began to drop down the order.
Verstappen’s drop halted at P10 and he progressed to Q2 comfortably. Gasly, though, was in freefall. A host of drivers easily eclipsed his best as the track rapidly improved. His slide eventually halted in P17 and he was eliminated behind Lance Stroll of Racing Point and ahead of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and the Williams cars of George Russell and Robert Kubica.
At the top of the order Charles Leclerc was quickest for Ferrari, though the Monegasque needed a late run on soft tyres after his opening medium-shod time left him in danger of elimination in the closing stages. Team-mate Sebastian Vettel managed to edge through in P11 on his medium tyre time.
Hamilton seized control of P1 in Q2 with a time of 1:21.014. Bottas moved to P2 with his final run, ending up 0.179 behind his team-mate. Verstappen slotted into P3, shaving three hundredths of a second off his first-run time.
Behind them Leclerc went through in P4 ahead of Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Vettel who went well wide on the exit of Turn 12 and kicking up a huge amount of dirt on his final run.
Out at the end of Q2 were both Renaults, with Nico Hulkenberg in P11 ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso rookie Alex Albon, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and the second Toro of Daniil Kvyat.
2019 Formula One Australian Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:20.486
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:20.598 0.112
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:21.190 0.704
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:21.320 0.834
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:21.442 0.956
6 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:21.826 1.340
7 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:22.099 1.613
8 Lando Norris McLaren 1:22.304 1.818
9 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:22.314 1.828
10 Sergio Perez Racing Point 1:22.781 2.295
11 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:22.562 2.076
12 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1:22.570 2.084
13 Alex Albon Toro Rosso 1:22.636 2.150
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 1:22.714 2.228
15 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:22.774 2.288
16 Lance Stroll Racing Point 1:23.017 2.531
17 Pierre Gasly Red Bull 1:23.020 2.534
18 Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren 1:23.084 2.598
19 George Russell Williams 1:24.360 3.874
20 Robert Kubica Williams 1:26.067 5.581