World champion Lewis Hamilton scorched to his 50th career pole position at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday as Formula One’s new-look qualifying format fizzled out in an embarrassing anti-climax.
Hamilton picked up where he left off in the last championship season of 10 wins and 11 poles as he destroyed his rivals, including Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, to front the grid for Sunday’s season-opening race in Melbourne.
The three-time champion led almost throughout as he progressively improved his lap time over the three qualifying stages to clock a best time of one minute 23.837 seconds.
“They were some sexy laps,” grinned Hamilton afterwards, lavishing praise on his team for its work on his Mercedes car.
He will start inside Rosberg on the grid with the Ferrari pair Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen unable to match his blistering pace and both starting off the second row.
But the new elimination qualifying format petered out with Vettel, Raikkonen and Rosberg not bothering to improve their times in the final minutes.
Manor Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein was the first man eliminated under the new knock-out qualifying format, which whittles down the field at 90-second intervals.
He was followed by his Indonesian team-mate Rio Haryanto, who went into qualifying with a three-place grid penalty for his pit lane crash in final practice.
Hamilton went quicker, clocking 1:25.351 — nearly a second faster than last year’s pole time — to clinch his place in the second phase of qualifying as the field began to thin.
Red Bull’s Russian driver Daniil Kvyat was the first major casualty of the qualifying shoot-out when he missed out in the first cut.
Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen in a Renault was the first out in the second part, followed by his rookie English team-mate Jolyon Palmer.
Jenson Button didn’t even try to improve on his time and was already out of his McLaren as the clock ticked down, as he went out along with his team-mate Fernando Alonso.
Starting grid: 1st row: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes); Nico Rosberg (Mercedes). 2nd: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari); Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari). 3rd: Max Verstappen (Toro Rosso); Felipe Massa (Williams). 4th:Carlos Sainz Jr (Toro Rosso); Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull). 5th: Sergio Perez (Force India); Nico Hulkenberg (Force India). 6th: Valtteri Bottas (Williams); Fernando Alonso (McLaren). 7th: Jenson Button (McLaren); Jolyon Palmer (Renault). 8th: Kevin Magnussen (Renault); Marcus Ericsson (Sauber). 9th: Felipe Nasr (Sauber); Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull). 10th: Romain Grosjean (Haas); Esteban Gutierrez (Haas). 11th: Pascal Wehrlein (Manor); Rio Haryanto (Manor). — Agencies