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F1

Hamilton holds off Vettel challenge to take Australian Grand Prix pole

Lewis Hamilton posted the fastest ever lap at Albert Park to claim pole for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix. The British driver held off the challenge of German Sebastian Vettel, who also starts on the front row.

Hamilton shaved more than a second off his qualifying time for the same race last year and equaled Ayrton Senna's record of six pole positions at the Australian Grand Prix.

Last year's runner up in the driver's championship will line up ahead of Vettel, who finished just 0.268secs back, marginally quicker than Hamilton's new teammate Valtteri Bottas, who replaced Nico Rosberg after the German's retirement following his maiden championship win last year.

There was disappointment for hometown hero Daniel Ricciardo, who sent his Red Bull rear first into the gravel and stopped at turn 14 but walked away unharmed. "I'm fine physically but emotionally it's tough," said Ricciardo, who will start in 10th, with Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen in 5th.

A series of rule changes - including moves to widen tires and improve aerodynamics - look to have made the 2017 cars faster than last year's versions and many believe this year's championship will be tighter than the Mercedes-dominated events of recent years.

"It's been a fantastic weekend so far. I'm incredibly proud of my team," Hamilton said, after claiming pole for the fourth successive time in Melbourne. "Valtteri did a great job and it's great for us as Mercedes. It's going to be a tight race.

"Tomorrow is about putting all the work together and making sure I come back stronger than ever."

The 32-year-old also said he expects a stronger challenge from Vettel's Ferrari team this time around and the German said he's looking forward to racing the quicker cars in Grand Prix conditions for the first time on Sunday.

"People are fired up," Vettel said. "We're motivated for tomorrow. We have a good car and we're working well as a team. Nice to see that things are working. We had a mixed day yesterday, but confidence in the car was there from testing."

 

mp (AFP/AP)

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