Lewis Hamilton clinched pole position for the Australian Grand Prix in a thrilling session that saw high winds and a rain shower make for an dramatic climax, with home favourite Daniel Ricciardo taking second place ahead of Nico Rosberg.
It is the 32nd pole of Hamilton’s career, equalling compatriot Nigel Mansell with the sixth highest tally of all time.
Mercedes’ Friday pace was clear once again this morning as Rosberg set the fastest time and Mercedes continued their dominance – in dry conditions at least. They looked set to fill the front-row with little exertion.
However, with a quickening wind and a darkening sky the threat of rain increased throughout the afternoon. By the time the top ten shoot-out arrived it was extreme wet tyre conditions for most – although Ricciardo set his time on Intermediates.
With Hamilton and Rosberg holding the front-row after the first run it became time to decide on a switch to intermediates or to remain on the full wet tyre. The Mercedes pair deemed it wet enough to use a new set of full wets, whilst Ricciardo opted for a switch to intermediates.
In the final five minutes there were quick improvements. Hamilton set the fastest time only for his team-mate to usurp him, although Hamilton had one final chance. During Hamilton’s final tour, Ricciardo had finally got his intermediates up to temperature and was setting quickest sectors, taking provisional pole and sending his home fans in to raptures.
But Hamilton was going quicker still, making use of Mercedes’ superior power and a brave final sector to take pole by 0.317s.
“The conditions made it extremely difficult,” said Hamilton. “So much more power so you’re short-shifting into six, seventh before you can actually get the full throttle.”
“I was kind of on the limit, it was very difficult to know what the turnover point,” Hamilton explained. “Do you take a risk or not – I decided not to. Daniel obviously did a really god job on the inters so it was obviously a very close call between the two.”
Along with Ricciardo there was a number of impressive performances from the younger generation of drivers, headed by Kevin Magnussen. The McLaren rookie has been driving to his limit all weekend, showing plenty of confidence and taking a fourth place start in his first Grand Prix.
The more experienced team mates of Ricciardo and Magnussen could not make their way in to Q3. Sebastian Vettel could not match the pace of the Australian throughout the session and a yellow flag caused by a spin for Kimi Raikkonen put an end to Vettel’s hope of an improved lap and a place in Q3.
Vettel will therefore start in thirteenth place tomorrow, just behind Jenson Button and Raikkonen’s Ferrari, who share the sixth row of the grid. A software issue for Vettel meant that power delivery was rough and he complained in practice and qualifying that the power unit lacked drivability especially on acceleration.
The sister Ferrari of Fernando Alonso went against the grain in Q3, running the intermediate tyre from the out-set before switching to extreme wets in the final minutes. He was three seconds off the pace prior to the switch but was able to make up for lost time and improve to fifth place by the session end.
Joining Alonso on the third row was another strong performer, this time Jean-Eric Vergne. The Toro Rosso has looked a handful in dry conditions but with the playing field level he and team mate Danii Kvyat were able to get in amongst the front-runners. The 19-year old Russian, Kvyat, eventually took eighth place in his first qualifying session of Formula One, behind Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India and ahead of the Williams pair of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.
Lotus’ 2014 woes continued with Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado failing to set a lap and will start on the final row of the grid.
Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m44.231s
2. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m44.548s +0.317s
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m44.595s +0.364s
4. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m45.745s +1.514s
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m45.819s +1.588s
6. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m45.864s +1.633s
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m46.030s +1.799s
8. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m47.360s +3.129s
9. Felipe Massa Williams 1m48.079s +3.848s
10. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m48.147s +3.916s
11. Jenson Button McLaren 1m44.437s +2.173s
12. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m44.494s +2.230s
13. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m44.668s +2.404s
14. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m45.655s +3.391s
15. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m45.867s +3.603s
16. Sergio Perez Force India 1m47.293s +5.029s
17. Max Chilton Marussia 1m34.293s +4.118s
18. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m34.794s +4.619s
19. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m35.117s +4.942s
20. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m35.157s +4.982s
21. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m36.993s +6.818s
22. Pastor Maldonado Lotus