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Hamilton back with a bang as he takes pole in season-opening Australian Grand Prix

But there was disaster for home favourite Daniel Ricciardo in qualifying.

Hamilton celebrates Saturday's qualifying victory.
Hamilton celebrates Saturday's qualifying victory.
Image: DPA/PA Images

TRIPLE WORLD CHAMPION Lewis Hamilton will start off the pole in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix after winning qualifying on Saturday.

Hamilton in a Mercedes clocked a record lap of one minute 22.188 seconds to take his 62nd career pole and sixth in Australia into Sunday’s race in Melbourne.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was second with Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas third.

Hamilton has been on pole in Melbourne in each of the last four seasons, and in five out the last six Australian GPs.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. I’m incredibly proud of my team,” Hamilton said.

“Valtteri did a great job and it’s great for us as Mercedes. It’s going to be a tight race.

“Tomorrow is about putting all the work together and making sure I come back stronger than ever.”

He was pushed in the final Q3 stage first by Bottas and then by Vettel before clinching the fastest lap.

“I lost a bit in turn one and in turn nine I tried a bit too much, but I don’t think it would have been enough,” said Vettel, who claimed Ferrari’s first front row since 2015 in knocking Bottas out of second place.

Hamilton’s pole time was 1.7 seconds quicker than his qualifying time last year.

“Third position is not ideal,” Bottas said.

“In general I’m not happy for the result. But I’m proud of what the team has done.

“I only saw a very small part of the preparation and it’s nice to see the work has pulled off and we’re fighting at the front.”

Australia’s big hope Daniel Ricciardo crashed his Red Bull at turn 14 looking to post a good time in Q3 and will start 10th off the grid.

Ricciardo damaged the rear of his RB13 car and was heard over the team radio as saying: “I’m alright… sorry guys.”

The final session of qualifying was suspended while Ricciardo’s car was removed from the gravel alongside the track.

“He’s absolutely fine. It’s a shame. He’s lost the rear of the car at turn 14. He’s come on the radio and apologised. Just pushing a bit too hard in that corner,” team principal Christian Horner said.

Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon and Marcus Ericsson all failed to make it through the top ten shootout.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had a lock-up into turn six on ultrasoft tyres before he posted a time to stay alive into Q2.

McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne had a fuel-flow issue which sent the Belgian to the pits and knocked out in Q1.

Vandoorne was joined by Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen, Lance Stroll and Jolyon Palmer to be eliminated in the first session of qualifying.

Giovinazzi is making his F1 debut after replacing Williams team-mate Pascal Wehrlein, who has not sufficiently recovered from a back injury sustained in a pre-season crash.

© – AFP, 2017

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