03/24 06:59 CDT Hamilton takes record 7th pole at Australian Grand Prix
Hamilton takes record 7th pole at Australian Grand Prix
By JUSTIN BERGMAN
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) --- Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton set a blistering
time in his final lap of qualifying to take pole position at the season-opening
Australian Grand Prix on Saturday for a record seventh time, outpacing his
nearest rival by a sizable 0.664 seconds.
The defending Formula One champion set a time of 1 minute, 21.164 seconds at
Albert Park circuit, breaking a tie with Ayrton Senna for most poles at the
Australian GP. It's the 73rd pole of Hamilton's career.
"I'm so happy with that lap. It was such a nice lap," Hamilton said. "And, you
know, I'm always striving for perfection and that was as close as I could get."
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen finished second with a lap of 1:21.828, with teammate
Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo rounding
out the top five. Ricciardo will start the race in eighth position after a
penalty for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday's practice.
The gap between four-time world champion Hamilton and the rest of the field
took many drivers by surprise, with Ricciardo likening it to "throwing a pie in
everyone's face." Mercedes has been dominant in Formula One in recent years,
but both Ferrari and Red Bull made strides last year and are hoping to
challenge for the championship this season.
"I think everyone else wants to see them get challenged a bit more," said
Ricciardo. "That was a little bit of a punch in the stomach to everyone. I know
obviously they're loving it, they're in a good position. But everyone else is
It wasn't all good news for Mercedes, however, as Hamilton's teammate, Valtteri
Bottas, crashed at the start of the final qualifying session and finished in
10th place. He will start in 15th after a grid penalty for needing another
Bottas briefly veered off the track going into Turn 2 and then lost his
traction, sliding into a wall at high speed. The crash did serious damage to
the right side of the car, tearing off both tires and scattering the track with
debris. Bottas walked away without any injuries.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said the team was lucky the damage wasn't too
extensive and that Bottas would be able to compete on Sunday. But the crash was
a blow for the Finnish driver, who had finished last season strongly and was
looking to push Hamilton at the start of this year.
"This is a moment where you could start to question yourself," Wolff said. "And
this in Race 1 is not good for the psychology of the driver, so we're trying to
give him all the support we can."
Ferrari looked capable of matching Mercedes' speed early in Saturday's
qualifying, as both Raikkonen and Vettel went out fast with their ultra-soft
"It was a real surprise to see how quick the Ferraris were, the speeds they
already had on the straights," Hamilton said. "They've obviously made an
improvement to their power mode."
And though Hamilton maintained his dominance in qualifying, Vettel believes
Ferrari may have the advantage in Sunday's race with Bottas being forced to
play catch-up. Vettel also outdueled the pole-sitting Hamilton here a year ago
to win the race.
"Obviously, the gap is bigger than we want it to be," Vettel said. "But we've
seen many times now --- 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 --- that usually on Sunday
things get a little bit closer.
"He's free to have the party tonight, and hopefully Kimi and myself will have
the party tomorrow."
Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean of Haas took sixth and seventh places,
respectively, followed by Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz of Renault in eighth
and ninth. Magnussen, Grosjean and Hulkenberg will each move up a space on the
grid due to Ricciardo's penalty.
Ricciardo believes Mercedes is still beatable, despite the speed Hamilton
displayed in qualifying.
"I think Lewis is very good. I don't think he's too good," he said. "The buffer
they had was a little bit disheartening, but we've got to try and figure it
Wolff, too, is waiting to see whether Hamilton's pole-setting lap was an
"outlier" or simply Mercedes getting even faster thanks to off-season engine
"If you take the majority of timed laps in qualifying, the Ferraris, Red Bulls
and Mercedes were always very close to each other," Wolff said. "Within tenths
(of a second) on some of the laps."
Both McLaren drivers, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, failed to qualify
for the final qualifying session and, following Bottas' grid penalty, will
start in 10th and 11th positions, respectively.
It's not the best start for McLaren's new partnership with Renault after
ditching the Honda-made engines which the team had been using for the past