A World Champion always seems to leave the best to last and that’s what happened in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton clinched pole for Sunday’s race with another excellent last-gasp lap but it wasn’t such great news for his team-mate. Let’s look at how final practice and qualifying got on.
The predicted rain turned up making conditions difficult for the final practice session. After the dominance of Mercedes on Friday, final practice produced a 1-2 for Ferrari with Sebastian Vettel but the session didn’t prove much.
That’s because only the Ferrari’s and third-fastest Marcus Ericsson in his Sauber ran on slick tyres. The top three were nearly three seconds faster than the rest. Max Verstappen finished fourth after an impressive display on intermediate tyres on a wet track.
The Renault of Carlos Sainz Jnr was fifth with Daniel Ricciardo in sixth. The Mercedes finished seventh and eighth with Bottas ahead of Hamilton, but their times were six seconds behind Ferrari so hardly an indication of how Sunday will go.
All wasn’t well with McLaren with Fernando Alonso upset over being refused the chance to go out on slick tyres. He’d been doing well on intermediate tyres earlier in the session before having to abort his lap. “What a disaster. I don’t know what we are doing,” said the upset Spaniard.
As is often the case, Lewis Hamilton left it late but came up with a fantastic lap to grab pole position for the Australian Grand Prix. It was close between the defending world champion and chief rivals Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen. With the final qualifying runs to come, the gap between them was only 0.061 seconds. Then Hamilton stormed to pole finishing 0.664 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen who was just 0.01 seconds ahead of Vettel. Anyone thinking Hamilton had just turned up the engine power on his Mercedes was wrong as he’d been on maximum engine mode for the previous laps in final qualifying.
Max Verstappen qualified in fourth and his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in fifth, but the latter has a three-place grid penalty for tomorrow’s race. Behind the two Red Bulls were the Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean with Renault’s Nico Hulkenburg in eight but that trio will all go up a place due to Ricciardo’s penalty.
It wasn’t such good news for Valtteri Bottas as he crashed his Mercedes at the start of final qualifying and he finished tenth fastest but will have a five-place grid-penalty after the gearbox of his damaged car had to be replaced. Not the best way to impress your boss at the start of the final season of your contract. Expect the ‘will Bottas be driving for Mercedes in 2019’ storyline to be a constant one this year. McLaren failed to make it into final qualifying. Alonso had been doing well earlier but made a mistake on his final lap in Q2 and finished 11th.
Speaking after qualifying, Hamilton spoke about how difficult it had been securing pole. “It definitely wasn’t straightforward. Getting out and getting the tyres working to the optimum and staying in the right zone all lap was definitely difficult. But that last lap was definitely the best of the weekend. I am very, very happy with that lap. One of my best, I would say.”
Ferrari were pleased with their end result with Vettel swapping jokes over the fact Hamilton suddenly produced such a great time despite having been on maximum engine mode beforehand. He’s hopeful that “we can play two against one. In race pace I think we will be closer. We will see how close we can be.”
It was the seventh pole for Hamilton in Australia, but he’s only won the race twice. Rain is forecast so it’s going to be an interesting race for sure. As Vettel said, he’ll be hoping Ferrari can play two against one, particularly with Bottas down the grid. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was only just behind the Ferrari’s in qualifying so the chase to get past Hamilton is going to be an exciting one.
I’ll be back next weekend with a look back at the first race of the season. Till then, enjoy your racing and don’t forget to put your clocks forward tonight.