Formula 1 started a new era of faster, more demanding cars but the status quo held during qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix with Hamilton taking pole.
Sebastian Vettel delivered on the promising signs for Ferrari by claiming second on the grid 0.268 seconds behind Hamilton.
Valtteri Bottas, starting in his first Grand Prix for Mercedes, managed only third adrift of Vettel by 0.025 seconds and ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen by 0.552 seconds.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo crashed out on his hot lap in Q3 to start from tenth at his home Grand Prix.
Hamilton on top
Lewis Hamilton continued his strong practice form to take total control throughout qualifying.
Bottas flirted with the fastest lap time in Q2 but the Englishman stamped his authority when it was required delivering a solid lap in the important Q3 to easily out-qualify his new team-mate.
While Bottas produced a solid performance for Mercedes – making no errors and qualifying among the front rows – the sheer gap in his qualifying time to Hamilton will be a reality check for the Finn.
“Third is not ideal. In general I am not happy for the result but I am proud of what the team has done with this car,” explained Bottas.
“Tomorrow is the day that matters. Our starts have been quite strong in practice.”
Let the battle begin
Preseason testing had hinted at a leap forward in Ferrari’s car and they delivered on expectations during qualifying.
Raikkonen struggled to get into a groove but Vettel consistently pushed the Mercedes drivers showing signs that Ferrari could well be in the mix for the Championship this season – a contest that spectators have been craving for years.
“We have a good car, we are working well as a team and things are improving,” said Vettel.
We had a mixed day yesterday but the confidence in the car was there from testing and we showed that today. I would have loved it but I don’t think pole was up for grabs.”
“I think we can do something in the race tomorrow.”
Starting on the front row alongside Hamilton on a track that is difficult to overtake makes the start crucial for both – particularly with the rule changes giving most of control back to the drivers and increasing the potential for errors.
Haas return to form
The Haas team had a roller-coaster 2016 season with a competitive start to the campaign making way for a huge dip in form.
History may be repeating itself again in 2017 with Romain Grosjean turning in a sublime qualifying session to start sixth on the grid sandwiched between Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Williams’ Felipe Massa. His new team-mate Kevin Magnussen disappointed by ending in 17th.
Starting one place ahead of Magnussen will be Sauber’s Antonio Giovinazzi. The third driver for Ferrari only got a seat at Sauber after Pascal Wherlein pulled out citing a lack of race fitness after taking time off with a back injury sustained in a crash in January’s Race of Champions.
Giovinazzi finished just 0.183 seconds behind regular Sauber driver Ericsson despite only getting into the car this week.
“I am so happy. It is a dream come true for me,” said Giovinazzi.