Hamilton edges out resurgent Vettel to claim Malaysia pole

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Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix after taming the wet conditions at Sepang International Circuit to fend off the opposition and finish at the top of the timesheets, underlining Mercedes’ dominance at the start of the new Formula 1 season.

Despite a lengthy delay and two red flags, the wet weather subsided to allow the full complement of running to take place, and Hamilton excelled in the wet conditions to edge out defending world champion Sebastian Vettel. The German driver missed out on his chance for pole after Red Bull mis-timed his final run, whilst Nico Rosberg rounded out the top three with a last-ditch lap to move ahead of Fernando Alonso.

After a 50 minute delay due to heavy rain, qualifying finally got underway on a drying track that forced the drivers to head out on the intermediate tire. With another rain shower forecast, Mercedes sent its drivers to the end of the pit lane early to ensure track position, and a number of other teams opted to follow suit. Lewis Hamilton was the first driver to post a lap time of 1:57.309, only for teammate Nico Rosberg to go one-tenth quicker. Just as they did in the dry, the Mercedes drivers appeared to have an early advantage in the wet.

As the drivers continued to circulate the track, Sebastian Vettel was given the call to pit due to an issue with his power unit that required fixing. Despite the rain appearing to grow heavier, a number of the drivers were able to improve their lap times. After having to make a tire change, Kevin Magnussen finally got out to post his first lap time and get out of the dropzone, but both he and teammate Jenson Button were at risk of elimination. Vettel finally managed to get back out, and quickly went about securing a place in Q2 by moving up into third place behind the two Mercedes drivers.

With one minute to go, Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson spun on the run-up to turn four and crashed into the wall, bringing out a red flag and ending the session. Alongside Caterham teammate Kamui Kobayashi and the two Marussia drivers, Ericsson was eliminated at the end of Q1. Pastor Maldonado and Adrian Sutil also failed to finish inside the top sixteen, thus ending their qualifying sessions.

Once the debris from Ericsson’s car had been cleared, Q2 began with most of the drivers heading out early. However, the session lasted a matter of minutes as the session was red flagged due to debris on track, forcing the teams to box their cars and wait for instructions. Whilst heading back to the pits, Fernando Alonso was hit by rookie Daniil Kvyat and suffered front suspension damage that gave his team a small repair job to get on with as the session restarted. The Spaniard did manage to get out soon after the restart on full wet tires, but Valtteri Bottas braved the conditions on intermediates, but it was the wrong call as he found himself eight seconds behind pace-setter Lewis Hamilton.

With five minutes to go, most of the drivers opted to pit for fresh tires, but both Mercedes drivers continued out on track and lowered the benchmark further at the top of the timesheets. A trip through the gravel gave Kevin Magnussen a wake-up call, but both he and Kimi Raikkonen opted to end their runs early in the hope that none of the drivers below them would improve their times. Jenson Button demoted his teammate by one place after moving up into the top ten, and Jean-Eric Vergne pulled the same stunt on Daniil Kvyat to secure his place in Q3 at the expense of his teammate. For Williams, it was a difficult session as both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas dropped out in Q2, whilst Romain Grosjean rounded out the order in 16th place.

Q3 got underway with all drivers except Button and Magnussen heading out on full wet tires. Raikkonen’s initial benchmark of 2:01.218 didn’t last long as Lewis Hamilton went over 1.7 seconds quicker. Nico Rosberg could not match his teammate’s pace, but Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso both put in a good lap to move into the top three.

In the final few minutes of the session, the rain grew heavier and improvements were few and far between, but Red Bull shot themselves in the foot by mis-timing Vettel’s final run. Ultimately, Nico Rosberg was the only driver who managed to improve and move up into third place, but it was his teammate who took the plaudits by securing his 33rd career pole position.

Although Hamilton will be pleased to have secured back-to-back pole positions, the British driver will undoubtedly be wary of a resurgent Vettel and his teammate at the start of the race tomorrow. Just as he did in Australia, though, he has given himself the best possible chance of claiming his second win for Mercedes on Sunday.

Daniel Ricciardo frustrated to crash out of home F1 qualifying

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Daniel Ricciardo made no secret of his frustration after crash out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, resigning himself to a 10th-place start for his home race on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the Melbourne weekend aiming to become the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race since the event became part of the F1 world championship in 1985.

Despite struggling with the setup on his RB13 car on Friday, Ricciardo looked poised to claim a top-five grid slot for Sunday’s race, only to lose control of his car at Turn 14 in Q3 and end the session in the wall.

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top five.”

Ever the optimist, Ricciardo said the difficult qualifying will only serve as greater motivation to fight back up the order and give his home fans a result to celebrate on Sunday.

“I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are,” Ricciardo said.

“It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow. I made it a bit more difficult for myself but it’s going to be alright.

“To get a good start in the race will be the key. I saved a set of ultra-softs in Q2, I know that not everyone in front of me has, so maybe that gives me a chance.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Valtteri Bottas disappointed with P3 start for Mercedes F1 debut

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Valtteri Bottas came away from qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix feeling disappointed despite securing third place on the grid for his first Formula 1 race as a Mercedes driver.

Bottas joined Mercedes over the winter following world champion Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, and made his first official race weekend appearance for the Silver Arrows on Friday.

The ex-Williams driver made a splash in qualifying by running teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel close, but was left to settle for third on the grid after finishing three-tenths of a second off the pole time.

“Third position is not ideal. In general I’m not happy with the result,” Bottas admitted after qualifying.

“But what I’m really happy about and proud about [is] what the team has done again with this car. I only saw a very small part of the preparation with the new car and the new era of Formula 1, and it’s really nice to see that all the work has paid off and we’re fighting at the very front.

“It seems to be very close this year, especially here. Myself I didn’t get any perfect laps in, so not that satisfied.

“Tomorrow’s the day that matters. It seems like in the race starts we’ve been quite strong. If we can keep that form I had in practice, and have a nice and clean race and get some really good points.”

Bottas’ best finish in Australia currently stands at fifth place in 2014 with Williams, with the Finn never qualifying any higher than sixth at Albert Park in his four previous attempts.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”

Hamilton buoyed by sixth Australia F1 pole, ready for tight race

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was buoyed by his charge to pole position in Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday, but is braced for a tight race at the front of the pack.

Hamilton saw off a challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to capture his sixth pole at Albert Park, and the 62nd of his F1 career.

Hamilton had doubts over Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari heading into the new year, making his charge to pole all the more meaningful as he paid tribute to the team members after qualifying.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. It’s quite amazing to come here for I think the 11th time, and it feels like it was only yesterday that I came here and had my first race here in 2007,” Hamilton said.

“I’m just incredibly proud of my team. This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone. The guys have just worked so hard to make this car what it is today.”

Despite taking pole by almost three-tenths of a second in Q3, Hamilton is braced for a close fight on Sunday with Vettel and Bottas, the latter starting his first race for Mercedes from third on the grid.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job given it’s his first qualifying session with the team. He did a great job and it’s great for Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“Looking forward to the race, it’s close between us all. As you can see, there’s going to be a tight race this year I think.

“I think tomorrow is about putting all the work that’s gone in over the winter, all the work that’s gone through testing and this whole weekend and really put it to work tomorrow.

“I’ll make sure I get a good night’s sleep and come back tomorrow stronger than ever.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET on Sunday.