Lewis Hamilton blew his opposition away with a superb lap in qualifying to take his fifth successive pole position in Australia on Saturday, with Ferrari and Red Bull left trailing in the Mercedes driver’s wake.
QUALIFYING: Imperious Hamilton beats Raikkonen to pole
However, there were mixed fortunes for the Silver Arrows, with Vatteri Bottas crashing heavily in Q3 without setting a time, causing the session to be temporarily red-flagged.
Kimi Raikkonen outpaced his Ferrari team mate Sebastian Vettel to join Hamilton on the front row, both ahead of the Red Bulls, with Haas and Renault lining up two-by-two to complete the top 10.
Raikkonen and Vettel were the pace-setters in Q1, with all the teams choosing to run the ultrasoft tyres – the softest Pirelli compound available in Melbourne – from the start.
Raikkonen has had the edge over his team-mate Vettel all weekend and that continued early in qualifying, with the Finn improving on his second timed lap to move further clear.
Hamilton was a slow burner, his first two efforts not good enough to trouble Raikkonen. But his third flyer, on a six-lap run, was right on the money.
The Mercedes driver was the only man to get into the 1m 22s bracket, ending the session a quarter of a second quicker than Raikkonen with Vettel the same margin back in third.
Williams’ Lance Stroll leapt out of the drop zone in the closing seconds, garnering praise from his engineers. Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley missed out by just half a tenth as a result.
Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc, Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly were the other drivers to be eliminated.
The Red Bulls mixed it up in Q2, with Verstappen and Ricciardo the only two drivers opting to run the supersofts in the session, giving them an alternative strategy as they will start the race on that tyre.
The duo eased into the final part of qualifying, but they didn’t challenge the top of the times. That honour was left to Hamilton, who was majestic on his first lap in the session.
The Briton looked set to stay on top of the pile, only for Vettel to respond with a mighty lap of his own to become the first man into the 1m 21s.
Bottas ended up third quickest, a fraction behind his team mate Hamilton, with Verstappen fourth and Raikkonen fifth.
Further back, Haas continued their brilliant form with both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean sailing through to the pole position shootout along with Renault’s Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg.
McLaren weren’t so lucky, with Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne 11th and 12th respectively. Sergio Perez admitted Force India had a lot of work to do as he exited qualifying with team mate Esteban Ocon, as they ended up 13th and 15th respectively. Stroll also failed to progress.
There was drama at start of Q3 when Bottas lost the car through Turn 2, putting a couple of wheels on the grass and crashing heavily into the wall on the exit of the corner, bringing out the red flag.
He climbed out of the car unscathed, but it took some time to clear the vast amount of debris that had been scattered across the track.
When the session resumed, Hamilton led the way after the first runs, clocking an identical time to his best in the second part of qualifying and 0.034s ahead of Vettel.
Verstappen was just 0.027s adrift in third, with Raikkonen a tenth further back in fourth and Ricciardo fifth.
Hamilton then blew the field away with a phenonmenal lap which was nearly ninth tenths quicker than his previous best. Ferrari’s Raikkonen and Vettel couldn’t respond, ending up more than six tenths adrift in second and third respectively.
Verstappen beat Ricciardo to fourth, with the latter set to start three places further back following a penalty for a speeding offence in practice.
Haas were best of the rest with Kevin Magnussen edging out Romain Grosjean by just over a tenth, while the Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz completed the top 10.
Ricciardo's penalty will drop him to eighth in the race starting order, handing Magnussen Haas's best-ever grid slot in fifth.
The key quote
“It was one of my best. With the results we’ve had, you would think it’s the norm, but it’s just as intense. My heart is racing. I’m always driving for perfection and that was as close as I could get. I was focused on hooking up tyres and getting the right temperature and then getting the lap together.” - Lewis Hamilton
The key stats
Hamilton’s pole was his fifth straight in Melbourne, and his seventh overall in Australia – a new all-time record (he’d previously shared the record with Ayrton Senna)
The pole time of 1m 21.164s is the fastest lap time ever in Albert Park
Valtteri Bottas’s crash means Mercedes will have a car starting outside the top three for the first time in Melbourne since F1 switched to the current V6 turbo engine regulations
Kimi Raikkonen outqualified Sebastian Vettel for the first time in six races
Haas achieved the best set of qualifying results in their history with Magnussen sixth and Grosjean seventh. With Ricciardo’s grid penalty, Magnussen will start fifth – the American team’s highest-ever starting position
Prior to Melbourne, Magnussen hadn’t made it to Q3 since Brazil 2014
The first round of the 2018 season begins at 1610 local time / 0510 UTC, and it looks like the weather will be dry, with temperatures similar to those seen in qualifying. Follow all the action on F1.com and the F1 App.