MELBOURNE, Australia — ESPN rounds up the main talking points from qualifying at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, where Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton claimed his seventh pole position Down Under.
Shock: Winter testing and free practice in Melbourne suggested Red Bull would begin the season as the team closest to Mercedes, but on Saturday afternoon it was Ferrari who got closest through Kimi Raikkonen, albeit a whopping 0.664s behind Hamilton’s sublime Q3 time. Max Verstappen will start fourth after finishing 0.715s behind Hamilton while teammate Daniel Ricciardo was over a second off the lead pace. Not too many could have predicted such a blitz from the Silver Arrow car and the hope will be the gap closes drastically in Bahrain.
Shocker: Things were looking bright for Valtteri Bottas ahead of Q3. The Finn was just 0.038s behind his teammate at the end of the Q2 runs and with Mercedes in prime form he looked set for a front row start. But within 10 seconds of his first flying lap in Q3 it was all over. Bottas got a fraction wide on the exit of Turn 2, dropped his tyres in the grass and was sent spinning into the barriers, ruining his car and bringing out the red flag. He is classified as 10th but is likely take a grid drop if he is required to change his gearbox.
Mr. Consistent: Who said Lewis Hamilton wasn’t consistent? The Mercedes driver made it five Australian Grand Prix pole positions in a row on Saturday after turning in one of the finest laps of his career. The four-time world champion was quickest in each of the three qualifying sessions, and if that’s not consistent enough, he even set the exact same lap time of 1:22.051 in both Q2 and Q3 before going even almost a full second quicker.
More McLaren misery? McLaren wasn’t overly optimistic about its prospects in Australia but even they would be bitterly disappointed not to have at least one car in the top 10 after qualifying. Fernando Alonso finished P11, one place ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne, but was still 1.7s off the fastest time set in Q2. Neverthless, Alonso didn’t seem to disappointed with McLaren’s outing but it’s pretty clear that plenty more work is required if they are to edge closer to the front of the grid.
Midfield watch: It’s official: Haas is the new leader of the midfield. Kevin Magnussen claimed sixth on the grid ahead of teammate Romain Grosjean and four tenths up on the Renaults. Force India’s disappointing winter testing continued on into qualifying in Melbourne so much so that had the Toro Rosso pair of Brendan Hartley and Pierre Gasly not made mistakes on their Q1 runs, both Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon would have finished the session in the bottom five.
Driver of the day: How could anyone go past Hamilton? His second Q3 lap was one of absolute class and you can bet that when it’s all said and done in Abu Dhabi it will be considered one of the laps of the season.
Rolex Australian Grand Prix Schedule on ESPN Networks (all times Eastern)
Sat., March 24
Qualifying, 2 a.m., ESPN2
Sun., March 25
On the Grid, 12:30 a.m., ESPN2
Race, 1 a.m., ESPN2
Race (encore),11 a.m., ESPN2
Race (encore), 1 p.m., ESPNEWS
Race (encore), 9 p.m., ESPNEWS