Melbourne: Triple world champion Lewis Hamilton fought off late bids from Sebastian Vettel and teammate Valtteri Bottas to seize pole position in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.
Hamilton in a Mercedes clocked a record lap of one minute 22.188 seconds to claim his 62nd career pole and his sixth in Australia into Sunday’s race in Melbourne.
Ferrari’s Vettel made a valiant late bid to snatch pole off Hamilton but finished just 0.268 secs down, although fractionally quicker than Bottas.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen took fourth ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, while Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo crashed out in the final Q3 session.
It was dominant Hamilton’s fourth successive pole in Melbourne and his fifth in his last six Australian GPs.
“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. I’m incredibly proud of my team,” Hamilton said.
“Valtteri did a great job and it’s great for us as Mercedes. It’s going to be a tight race.
“Tomorrow is about putting all the work together and making sure I come back stronger than ever.”
Hamilton, who finished runner-up by just five points in last season’s titanic world championship battle with now-retired teammate Nico Rosberg, will be chasing his third win in Melbourne.
Vettel gave promise of fighting for Ferrari’s first win in Melbourne since Kimi Raikkonen’s victory in 2007, with his bold showing.
“I lost a bit in turn one and in turn nine I tried a bit too much, but I don’t think it would have been enough,” said Vettel, who claimed Ferrari’s first front row since Singapore in 2015.
“I wasn’t entirely happy with my lap but I don’t think pole was up for grabs.
“Tomorrow we can do something in the race. I’m looking forward to it. People are fired up and we’re motivated.”
Hamilton’s pole time was 1.7 seconds quicker than his qualifying time last year.
“Third position is not ideal,” Bottas said.
“In general I’m not happy for the result. But I’m proud of what the team has done.
“I only saw a very small part of the preparation and it’s nice to see the work has pulled off and we’re fighting at the front.”
Australia’s big hope Ricciardo crashed his Red Bull at turn 14 looking to post a good time in Q3 and will start 10th off the grid.
Ricciardo damaged the rear of his RB13 car and was heard over the team radio as saying: “I’m alright ... sorry guys.”
The final session of qualifying was suspended while Ricciardo’s car was removed from the gravel alongside the track.
“I’m physically OK, but emotionally it’s tough. At least (the crash) didn’t happen in Q1,” Ricciardo told reporters.
“I would have loved to be (in the) top five rather than 10th.”
Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon and Marcus Ericsson all failed to make it through the top 10 shootout.
“After the difficulties we encountered in winter testing, we came to Melbourne without a clear idea of where we stood,” Alonso said of his troubled McLaren Honda.
“But we’ve more or less run through all the sessions without trouble — which is better than we’d expected.
“Tomorrow we’ll start 13th — in the middle of the pack — which is definitely not our target. Finishing the race is going to be tough.”
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had a lock-up into turn six on ultrasoft tyres before he posted a time to stay alive into Q2.
McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne had a fuel-flow issue which sent the Belgian to the pits and knocked out in Q1.
Vandoorne was joined by Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen, Lance Stroll and Jolyon Palmer to be eliminated in the first session of qualifying.
Giovinazzi is making his F1 debut after replacing Williams teammate Pascal Wehrlein, who has not sufficiently recovered from a back injury sustained in a pre-season crash.