Reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has banked a record seventh pole at the Australian Grand Prix. Germany's Sebastian Vettel finished third at Albert Park.
The British driver was a class apart in Melbourne on Saturday, completing his final lakeside circuit in 1 minute, 21.164 seconds and setting a huge lead of 0.664 seconds over second placed Kimi Raikkonen of Finland.
"I'm so grateful to the Aussies having us here every year," Hamilton said. "Mostly the generally good weather but beautiful city and a lot of British flags here so I'm really grateful for it. I'm so happy with that lap, it was such a nice lap and I'm always striving for perfection so that's as close I can get."
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Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel of Germany got round in 1:21.838, meaning he will line up alongside Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen in the second row for Sunday's grand prix. Verstappen's teammate Daniel Ricciardo recorded the fifth fastest time, but suffered a three-place grid penalty following an incident during Friday's practice session.
Despite the disappointment of finishing two places behind his bitter rival, Vettel was upbeat ahead of tomorrow's main event.
"I think in the last lap I had a bit of a moment in 2.13," the Ferrari driver said afterwards. "I tried to break really late it didn't work, but yeah, it was really close and exciting also fast if it was that close. Shame that Lewis had quite a big gap at the end but I guess his lap was pretty good. Looking forward to tomorrow I think we improved the car today and yeah see what happens tomorrow."
Hamilton's phenomenal time is further evidence that both he and his car could be a cut above the competition ahead of the new season. It wasn't all good news for Mercedes, though, as Hamilton's teammate, Valtteri Bottas, suffering a heavy crash in the third qualifying session. The Finn was deemed fit by medical staff, though it remains unclear if his vehicle could be salvaged.
em/dv (Reuters, AFP)