Lewis Hamilton pulled out a spectacular last-ditch lap to take a stunning pole position for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The world champion was nip and tuck with the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen until the final runs of the session, only for Hamilton to re-set perceptions of the possible to take pole by a massive 0.664 seconds.
Vettel was beaten to second by Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen by just 0.01secs, with the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo fourth and fifth.
Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas crashed at the start of final qualifying and will start 10th at best.
Hamilton said: “You would think that with the results we had these years it would feel the norm but it doesn’t. It’s so intense. I am so happy with that lap. I am always striving for perfection and that was as close as I can get.”
Going into the final minutes of qualifying, pole looked like it could go to any one of the top three teams, with only 0.061secs separating Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen.
But as Hamilton dramatically pitched the Mercedes into Turn One at a speed he had not managed before, it was clear that something special was on the cards.
By the end of the first sector, he was nearly half a second up on his previous best time and he extended that lead to take pole by a margin previously not seen throughout a weekend that until then had looked extremely close.
Vettel, expected to be Hamilton’s closest rival for the title again this year, said he was “happy” with his performance after struggling in Friday practice.
“It was really close,” he said. “Shame Lewis had quite a big gap at the end but I guess he did another pretty good lap.”
Ricciardo has a three-place grid penalty for a driving infringement in practice, which will promote the Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean to fifth and sixth places, and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg to seventh. (Courtesy BBC)