MX23RW : Monday, March 18 19:35:18

Hamilton on pole after setting new track record

Hamilton on pole after setting new track record
© Reuters
The Mercedes driver will be joined on the front row by team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Lewis Hamilton set a new track record – and then beat it again – as he took pole position for the Australian Grand Prix.

The reigning world champion clocked a one minute 21.014-second lap in Q2 and went more than half a second faster to claim his 84th career pole and sixth consecutive at Albert Park.

He will start alongside team-mate Valtteri Bottas who went faster than Hamilton with his first flying lap in Q3 but was pipped by 0.112 seconds to complete a Mercedes lockout of the front row.

Lewis Hamilton found his pole position a bit of a surprise
Lewis Hamilton found his pole position a bit of a surprise (Rick Rycroft/AP)

Speaking after qualification, Hamilton said the performance of his Mercedes car came "out of the blue".

He said: "It's a bit difficult when you have a session like that to grasp exactly what just happened but I'm very proud to be up here.

"Since practice from day one until the last day when we left and went back to the factory we knew we had work to do.

"I felt good that we had a decent package to work with but we were aware we might be slightly behind.

Valtteri Bottas said he enjoyed qualifying after joining Hamilton and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel on the front row
Valtteri Bottas said he enjoyed qualifying after joining Hamilton and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel on the front row (Rick Rycroft/AP)

"I really was not expecting to see the performance difference that we have here. It had been so close throughout the whole weekend between us all."

Hamilton had been top of every practice session going into Saturday's qualification under blue skies in Melbourne and set a new track record with a tidy lap in the second qualifying session, surpassing it in the top 10 shootout.

Bottas said: "I don't think anyone in the team could have imagined being in this position after the testing we had but everyone has been working so hard to make this possible. It's only one session, tomorrow is the main day.

"But from my side, I really enjoyed the qualifying. I had a difficult practice three, I wasn't really happy with the car. We made some changes and I really felt more confident in the qualifying."

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel qualified third, 0.704 seconds behind the five-time world champion, and will be joined on the second row by Red Bull's Max Verstappen who was 0.130 seconds further behind.

Vettel claimed even Mercedes would ahve been shocked by the pace of their cars
Vettel claimed even Mercedes would have been shocked by the pace of their cars (Andy Browbill/AP)

Vettel said he was surprised at the gap between his Ferrari and the Mercedes, adding: "I think everybody is, probably even (Mercedes) themselves.

"I think yesterday we didn't have a good day. Today felt better but in terms of gap in pace, it was very similar.

"For sure there's some homework for us to do to understand, but I still think we have a great car."

Vettel's team-mate Charles Leclerc starts fifth ahead of Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, while British rookie Lando Norris clocked a lap of one minute 22.304 seconds and will start eighth.

There was to be no home luck for Renault's Daniel Ricciardo who failed to make it out of Q2 by 0.038 seconds, while Verstappen's team-mate Pierre Gasly was a shock exit in the first qualifying session and will start Sunday's race in 18th, ahead of the Williams duo of George Russell and Robert Kubica.

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Sebastian Vettel pictured on February 18, 2019
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