Lewis Hamilton took his first pole position of the 2018 season in imperious fashion, beating Ferrari's Kimi Räikkönen and third-placed Sebastian Vettel by nearly seven tenths of a second. It was a bittersweet sesssion for Hamilton's Mercedes team, however, as the defending team-mate, Valtteri Bottas, crashed out heavily at the start of the final session.
Räikkönen set the pace early in Q1, eventually rising to a time of 1:23.096s ahead of the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. The order changed when Hamilton began to put together laps and five minutes before the flag the defending champion jumped to the top of the order with a lap of 1:22.824.
That put him 0.272 ahead of Räikkönen who finished ahead of Sebastian Vettel and the Red Bulls Verstappen and Ricciardo.
At the lower end of the order it looked like Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley was going to prop up the table, as he sat in P20 ahead of the final runs. The New Zealander rose to the challenge, though, and put in a superb final flyer to climb up the order. His time of 1:24.532 was only good for P16, however, and he missed out on progress to Q2 by just 0.029s, as Force India’s Esteban Ocon scraped through in P15.
Eliminated behind Hartley were the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc in P17 and P18 respectively, while Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin went out in P19 ahead of the second Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly who had an off on his final run.
Q2 saw Verstappen set the first quick lap on supersofts, but that of the ultra soft-shod Räikkönen quickly bypassed his lap of 1:22.830. This time top honours went to Vettel, with the Ferrari driving rising to P1 with a second-run time of 1:21.944. That put him a tenth clear of Hamilton, who stayed on his first-run time of 1:22.051. Bottas took third ahead of Verstappen and Ricciardo. Alonso was the main driver to miss out. Ahead of the final runs the Spaniard sat in P7, but once the final times came in the McLaren driver had been edged out to P11, some 1500ths of a second behind 10th-placed Nico Hulkenberg of Renault.
Alonso’s McLaren team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne was meanwhile eliminated in P11 ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, Stroll and Ocon.
Q3 began in dramatic fashion, with the first runs being interrupted by a red flag being shown when Bottas crashed heavily in Turn 2. The Finn lost control on the approach to the corner and broadsided the wall, causing severe damage to his Mercedes.
When running resumed Hamilton led the way, with a time identical to his Q2 best. That left him just three hundredths of a second clear of Vettel, with Verstappen third ahead of Räikkönen and Ricciardo.
In the second runs, though, Mercedes turned up the heat and Hamilton simply powered ahead, taking almost nine tenths of a second out of his first-run time to claim his 73rd career pole position with a time of 1:21.194.
Räikkönen took second place, though the Finn was 0.664s behind Hamilton. Vettel was third, just one hundredth of a second behind his Ferrari team-mate.
Ferrari were pushed hard, however, by Red Bull Racing who looked closer to the Italian team than last season. Verstappen qualified just four hundredths of a second behind Vettel, with Ricciardo fifth on a time of 1:22.152.
Behind them, Haas confirmed their dark horse status, with Kevin Magnussen taking sixth place ahead of team-mate Romain Grosjean. Hulkenberg was eighth ahead of Renault team-mate Sainz, while the unfortunate Bottas qualified 10th.
2018 Australian Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1'21.164
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1'21.828 0.664
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1'21.838 0.674
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1'21.879 0.715
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1'22.152 0.988
6. Kevin Magnussen Haas 1'23.187 2.023
7. Romain Grosjean Haas 1'23.339 2.175
8. Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1'23.532 2.368
9. Carlos Sainz Jr. Renault 1'23.577 2.413
10 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1'23.692 2.528
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1'23.853 2.689
13 Sergio Perez Force India 1'24.005 2.841
14 Lance Stroll Williams 1'24.230 3.066
15 Esteban Ocon Force India 1'24.786 3.622
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1'24.532 3.368
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1'24.556 3.392
18 Charles Leclerc Sauber 1'24.636 3.472
19 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1'24.922 3.758
20 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1'25.295 4.131