Lewis Hamilton flew to a record-breaking pole position in Melbourne, whilst team-mate Valtteri Bottas suffered a dramatic crash in Q3.
Hamilton crushed the field with his final hot lap of the day, breaking the all-time track record with a 1:21.164 to clinch a record seventh career pole in Australia.
Kimi Raikkonen emerged as Hamilton’s nearest rival in P2, but both he and Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel were six tenths behind the dominant Brit.
Hamilton’s superiority did not shine through until after Bottas’ car was recovered from the track. The Finn lost control on the exit of Turn 2 and smashed into the barrier. He is now facing the prospect of starting from the pit lane given the amount of damage to his W09.
Max Verstappen had to settle for P4, while Daniel Riccardo will drop from P5 to P8 because of the penalty he picked up in practice on Friday for speeding in red flag conditions.
Both Haas drivers, Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, qualified in the top 10, as did Renault pair Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg.
Although the weather forecast suggested a wet qualifying session, Q1 got underway with overcast conditions and, more importantly, a dry track.
With the first hot laps in the bank, it was Raikkonen who set the early pace with a 1:23.096 on the ultrasoft tyres.
But, after a couple of attempts, Hamilton brought the benchmark down to 1:22.824 – two tenths ahead of the Finn’s Ferrari.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 24, 2018
Williams, Toro Rosso and Sauber were the teams who looked vulnerable heading into qualifying and that came to fruition in Q1; Brendon Hartley, Marcus Ericsson, Charles Leclerc, Sergey Sirotkin and Pierre Gasly were all knocked out.
Dark clouds loomed as Q2 began, but the rain still held off.
Once again, it was Hamilton who dictated the pace as he initially found an extra eight tenths from Q1 – a 1:22.051 sent a warning sign to the rest.
Q2 saw a change in strategy, though, from Red Bull. Both Verstappen and Ricciardo opting for the slower supersoft compounds to open up a longer first stint for Sunday’s race.
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) March 24, 2018
Bottas narrowed the gap to Hamilton to just 0.038 seconds but, as the checkered flag waved to signal the end of Q2, Vettel sprang to life and went quickest of all with a 1:22.645 – a tenth clear of Hamilton heading into the battle for pole.
Fernando Alonso, Stoffel Vandoorne, Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon were the five drivers missing out on the top 10 shoot-out.
It was a dramatic start to Q3 as Bottas crashed out in spectacular fashion on the exit of Turn Two, causing the session to be red-flagged and ruining team-mate Hamilton’s first hot lap attempt.
Bottas is facing the likely prospect of a gearbox penalty and could well start from the pit lane given the amount of damage to his W09.
The session restarted with nine minutes on the clock and a thrilling battle at the top ensued.
Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen were all separated by 0.061 seconds heading into the final hot laps.
But then, Hamilton revealed the true strength of Mercedes’ self-named ‘party’ mode and crushed his rivals with a trademark dominant lap.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 24, 2018
He found half a second in the first sector before smashing the track record with a 1:21.164; Raikkonen and Vettel both six tenths back in second and third respectively.
A mistake from Verstappen left him settling for P4, while team-mate Ricciardo will drop down three places from P5 following his red-flag violation on Friday.
Provisional starting grid
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m21.164s –
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m21.828s 0.664s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m21.838s 0.674s
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m21.879s 0.715s
5 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1m23.187s 2.023s
6 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m23.339s 2.175s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m23.532s 2.368s
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m22.152s 0.988s
9 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m23.577s 2.413s
10 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes – –
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 1m23.692s –
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1m23.853s –
13 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m24.005s –
14 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1m24.230s –
15 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m24.786s –
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1m24.532s –
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m24.556s –
18 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1m24.636s –
19 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1m24.922s –
20 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1m25.295s –
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