Hamilton: Surprises expected for first few races

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Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg seem to be the early favorites for the Australian Grand Prix in a little under two weeks.

Hamilton admitted in a Q&A with the Formula One official website he enjoyed the Bahrain test more than any other in his career, and not just because of the team’s pace.

“These have been my favorite tests – simply because we’ve been in Bahrain,” he said. “These were the nicest two weeks I ever had in testing in terms of weather and in terms of how you’re treated and received in a country. And the track is far greater than Jerez or Barcelona. It really has been a pleasure to be here.”

Still, as most teams opt to do if they’re setting the bar in testing, Mercedes is downplaying their chances. Hamilton took the chance to say as much and recite the “we don’t know where everyone stands” line.

“Yeah, it is good going into a season – to the first race – knowing that we have covered the most miles, we probably are one of the most put-together teams in terms of the car working, a good mileage under our belts and a happy spirit,” he said. “We are driven to fight for the championship – that all is super positive.

“But let’s keep the feet on the ground: right now – even if all indications look great – it is still difficult to know who is hot and who is not. You go to Australia not knowing who the hell will be in the lead. Reliability will be a huge factor – for every single person in the team. For everyone.”

He said this year’s race should be wide open.

“It will be a bit of a mix and match in the first few races,” he explained. “Probably some good surprises for the fans – and for us. Maybe a bit of a deja-vu of 2012 when there was a different winner at the first couple of races.”

Hamilton, now 29, has traditionally done well in Australia. He’s finished on the podium four different times, including his 2008 win in a race littered with retirements. A fifth podium achieved in 2009 was eliminated when he was disqualified after the race when it was revealed he and the McLaren team had misled the stewards about a position battle with Jarno Trulli.

Any winner would be a change of pace from Sebastian Vettel, who won the last nine Grands Prix of 2013.

Formula 1: Ricciardo on Monaco pole, Verstappen to start last

Photo: Getty Images
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Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo has dominated all weekend long at the Monaco Grand Prix, leading every single practice session prior to qualifying.

And qualifying was more of the same for the Australian driver, whose quick lap in Q3 came in at 1:10.810, a new track record, to take the pole by more than two tenths of a second over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Meanwhile, Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen endured a much more difficult day, which started with a hard crash in FP3.

Verstappen’s Red Bull RB14 suffered extensive damage to the right side, and even more damage was later found in the car’s gearbox. Such repairs ultimately proved too time consuming, and Verstappen will start Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix from last.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton filled out the top three by qualifying third, with Ferrari and Mercedes also taking the fourth and fifth spots on the grid, with Kimi Raikkonen in fourth and Valtteri Bottas in fifth.

Force India’s Esteban Ocon, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, and Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. take up spots six, seven, and eight on the grid. Sergio Perez made it two Force Indias in Q3, qualifying ninth, while Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly qualified tenth.

Full qualifying results are below. Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix kicks off at 9:00 a.m. ET.

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