Lewis Hamilton beats Sebastian Vettel to Australian Grand Prix pole
Australian Grand Prix - Qualifying

Lewis Hamilton beats Sebastian Vettel to Australian Grand Prix pole

Lewis Hamilton beat Sebastian Vettel to pole position in the first qualifying session of the 2017 after Mercedes and Ferrari fought for supremacy over the front two rows of the grid.

Although the result reeks of dГ©jГ  vu, the fight at the front was not as one-sided as it has been in recent years. Scrappy laps for both Vettel and Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas in third suggest the relatively small gaps at the front could have been even closer if all three had extracted the maximum from their cars.

Key to Hamilton's 0.268s advantage over Vettel was a stunning first sector that gave him a 0.3s lead over the Ferrari by Turn 6. Vettel admitted to a mistake under braking for the first corner, while Bottas also lost time to Hamilton when he locked a brake into Turn 3. Bottas was the fastest of the three through the middle sector but there was less than 0.08s to choose between them. Vettel turned on the afterburners in the final sector, which includes the fastest and most breathtaking sectors of the circuit, to set the fastest time across the final six corners. But ultimately the time gained back in sector three was not enough to cancel out the time lost to Hamilton in sector one.

An equally tight battle could emerge in the race, with the start set to be crucial now that overtaking is more difficult in this new generation of cars. The rules regarding the use of the clutch have been tightened again this year so that more emphasis is back on the driver and there is more potential for mistakes off the line. One slip of an index finger and the order could look quite different coming out of Turn 1. After that, a one-stop strategy is expected to be the norm but Albert Park's unforgiving barriers increase the chance of safety car and an opportunity to roll the dice with an alternative strategy.

Outside the top three, Kimi Raikkonen was 0.577s off the pace of Hamilton before a further 0.5s gap to the quickest Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Romain Grosjean was sixth fastest for Haas ahead of Felipe Massa in the Williams and the two Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat, which were split by just 0.025s but over two seconds off the ultimate pace.

Daniel Ricciardo qualified 10th after spinning off at Turn 14 on his fast lap and rear-ending the barriers. The Australian carried a little bit too much speed into the corner and as he approached the apex the rear started to overtake the front, slewing the car out towards the gravel. The impact broke the rear wing and Red Bull will be keen to inspect the gearbox to assess potential damage (and the possibility of a grid penalty) ahead of the race.

Sergio Perez missed out on a top ten qualifying position by 0.084s in the Force India, but will take some solace from beating the Renault driven by ex-teammate Nico Hulkenberg to 11th by 0.010s. Fernando Alonso salvaged 13th place for McLaren, saying his lap could not have been much better in the Honda-powered MCL32. Esteban Ocon will start 14th in the second Force India ahead of the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson.

Antonio Giovinazzi will start 16th on his debut for Sauber after an impressive showing with just one practice session of experience behind him. He was just 0.183s slower than teammate Ericsson and was on an even quicker lap before a mistake in the penultimate corner. He will line up ahead of Kevin Magnussen, who ran wide at the high-speed Turn 12 on his quick lap and set a time 1.428s off teammate Romain Grosjean.

A fuel flow issue limited Stoffel Vandoorne's track time and he could only manage the 18th fastest time when he finally managed a lap at the end of Q1. Lance Stroll outqualified Jolyon Palmer but will start behind the Renault once his penalty for a gearbox change is applied. Both drivers had crashed heavily earlier in the weekend and Stroll's car was only just repaired in time to take part in Q1.

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