THERE was nothing lucky about pole number seven for Lewis Hamilton at the Australian Grand Prix.
The reigning Formula 1 world champ demolished his rivals with a scintillating qualifying lap that left him almost seven tenths clear of the field.
It wasn’t all good for Mercedes — a huge crash from Valtteri Bottas halted Q3, leaving the team with a big rebuild ahead of them on Saturday night.
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ULTIMATE GUIDE: Everything you need to know for the F1 Australian GP
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen pipped teammate Sebastian Vettel to the front row, the German joined by Max Verstappen on the second row.
Daniel Ricciardo was fifth fastest but will start his home race from eighth, courtesy of his controversial grid penalty.
HOW THE QUALIFYING SESSION PLAYED OUT
The Ferraris set the pace early in the session. Raikkonen laid down a 1m23.096s, with Vettel only barely able to get within a second of his teammate on his opening run.
The Red Bulls were next to lay down their laps, Ricciardo two tenths to the good of Verstappen but half a second down on the No. 7 Ferrari.
The reigning world champion was next to have a crack at the time — and he couldn’t topple the Finn! Hamilton set the fastest first sector, but the No. 44 appeared to struggle with understeer for the rest of its lap, finishing a tenth and a half down, still good enough for P2.
Vettel took a second swing with six minutes remaining, moving up to third and setting the fastest middle sector of all, but falling three tenths shy of his teammate’s time.
Verstappen also improved, edging ahead of Ricciardo by a mere 0.011 of a second — and he set the fastest time in the final sector.
Hamilton’s second run put him to the top; fastest in the first and last sectors, his 1m22.824s lap gave him a two tenth advantage.
The battle to avoid the five knockout spots was waged between three teams; Sauber, Toro Rosso and Williams.
The Force Indias had been among them until Perez fired in a lap good enough for P10 despite a lockup at the penultimate corner, Ocon similarly jumping to P11 moments later.
That left Ericsson on the bubble with a minute remaining, four tenths clear of the drop zone.
Stroll bumped his way in to P14, pushing Ocon onto the bubble.
Hartley was the only other driver to make any significant improvement on his final lap but fell short of the cut for Q2 by 0.029s, while an off at Turn 3 for his teammate Pierre Gasly left him to start his first Australian GP from last on the grid.
Out: Hartley, Ericsson, Leclerc, Sirotkin, Gasly.
Red Bull delivered the first strategy play of the session in the phase that determines the tyre compound the top 10 drivers will start the race on.
Verstappen and Ricciardo rolled out on Supersoft tyres rather than Ultrasofts, dropping in a 1m22.830s and a 1m22.897s respectively that team hoped would be good enough to get them into the 10.
Raikkonen again pipped Vettel on their first runs, the Finn setting the early benchmark on a 1m22.507s.
Then it was Hammertime: the Mercedes man fired in a 1m22.051s — undercutting his pole time from last year — to leap to P1, clear by half a second. Bottas wasn’t able to replicate his teammate’s speed to sit fourth.
Both Renault drivers had bad brake lockups on their first flyers; Hulkenberg at Turn 1 and Sainz at Turn 15, the latter’s lap still good enough for eighth behind Alonso, the Spaniard suggesting they go for his second run sooner rather than later as the skies darkened.
Vandoorne sat on the bubble after the first runs, with Stroll, Grosjean, Perez two tenths slower, while Hulkenberg aborted his first lap and Ocon opted to do just one flyer.
The Red Bulls held more than a second in hand over Vandoorne’s pace, but elected to go for second runs — again on Supersofts. Verstappen improved to fourth on his final run, while Ricciardo elected to abort the lap to remain sixth.
Grosjean was first to bump his way into the 10, moving to eighth. Hulkenberg also improved to ninth, putting Alonso onto the bubble. Sainz then pushed his countryman out in jumping to P7.
Vettel delivered the final surprise of the session — a 1m21.944s to go to P1, a tenth clear of Hamilton.
Neither McLaren made it to Q3 in their first race with Renault — “It’s okay,” Alonso told his team over the radio after a mistake at Turn 3 on his final lap left him P11 — nor did either Force India or Stroll, who also slid off at Turn 3 on his final lap.
Out: Alonso, Vandoorne, Perez, Stroll, Ocon
Five teams for the shootout for the first five rows: Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault, Haas.
Bottas crashed heavily at Turn 2 as he began his first flying lap, drawing the red flags.
The session resumed at the time it was meant to be finishing, setting up a 10-minute shootout between the leading runners.
Only the remaining five cars from the big three teams opted for two runs.
Hamilton once again led the order after the first runs, equalling his time from Q2.
Vettel was next best, just 0.034s short, with Verstappen a further 0.028s away.
Raikkonen and Ricciardo were next, the latter almost three tenths off his teammate’s pace.
The final flyers began with Grosjean passing Sainz in pit lane, the pair running side-by-side before the Renault let the Haas tuck into the fast lane.
Simply put, Hamilton annihilated everyone with his final lap.
Purple in every sector, his 1m21.164s set a new qualifying lap record — a full second faster than last year’s pole time and over seven tenths clear of his nearest rival.
Raikkonen won the battle of the Ferraris, pipping Vettel by 0.01, while Verstappen was a further 0.04s further away in fourth.
Ricciardo was fifth fastest — eighth with his penalty — after a slow first sector cancelled out a final sector equal to Hamilton’s.
That bumped the Haas cars to fifth and sixth, Magnussen ahead of Grosjean, with Hulkenberg also benefiting from Ricciardo’s penalty, while the fifth row went to Sainz and Bottas.