World champion Lewis Hamilton laid an early season marker down as he blitzed his rivals to take pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Lewis Hamilton saved his best for last, improving by eight tenths of a second on his final flying lap to leave Ferrari and Red Bull trailing in his wake, more than half a second behind.
Kimi Raikkonen will line up alongside Hamilton on the front row, with Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel third and Max Verstappen fourth for Red Bull.
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas crashed out at the start of Q3, with the extensive damage to the car potentially triggering a grid penalty.
A close fight between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull looked like playing out for much of the session, before Hamilton raised the stakes in spectacular fashion, leaving the others in his wake.
In the end Hamilton grabbed pole by a massive 0.664 seconds.
I am always striving for perfection and that was as close as I can get.
Vettel was beaten to second by Raikkonen by just 0.01secs, with the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo fourth and fifth.
Four-time world champion Hamilton admits his Albert Park lap was ‘close to perfection’.
He said: “You would think that with the results we had these years it would feel the norm but it doesn’t. It’s so intense. I am so happy with that lap. I am always striving for perfection and that was as close as I can get.”
In a tense press conference afterwards, Vettel asked Hamilton why he hadn’t been able to produce such a lap earlier in qualifying, with the Briton suggesting he was biding his time and wanted to “wipe the smile off your face”.
Australian Formula 1 Betting Odds
Hamilton is 2/5 to win the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, with Raikkonen 15/2 and fellow Ferrari driver Vettel 5/1.