Lewis Hamilton will start tomorrow’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix from pole position after finishing fastest in the first qualifying session of the year in Melbourne on Saturday.
After topping final practice earlier in the day, Hamilton carried his form through all three stages of qualifying by posting the fastest time, with an eventual pole lap of 1:26.327.
Rosberg was forced to settle for second place in the final standings, finishing almost six-tenths of a second behind his teammate after a scrappy qualifying session. Felipe Massa won the battle to be ‘best of the rest’ behind Mercedes, qualifying third ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.
Q1 began in earnest at Albert Park with rookie drivers Carlos Sainz Jr and Max Verstappen among the first out on track, but the same could not be said of Manor. Despite its best efforts, the team was unable to complete a single lap in either practice or qualifying, meaning that neither of its cars will start the race on Sunday.
Despite setting the early pace on the soft compound tire, Ferrari had no answer for Mercedes’ pace come the checkered flag in Q1. Hamilton and Rosberg were able to go P1 and P2 on the medium compound despite the pace deficit, proving the pace of the W06 Hybrid.
With the Manor cars already out, just three more cars would be eliminated in Q1. Daniil Kvyat encountered more problems with his Renault engine, meaning that he could only get out on track in the final five minutes of the session. The Russian managed to produce a lap good enough for P13 in the classification, though, securing his place in Q2.
Jenson Button may have sounded cynical when he said on Thursday that anything better than P18 would be an achievement for McLaren, but he was in fact very accurate. Problems with the power being produced by the Honda engine meant that neither Button nor his teammate Kevin Magnussen could get out of Q1, leaving them P17 and P18 on the grid respectively. Marcus Ericsson of Sauber completed the dropzone, finishing 16th.
Looking to continue his form from FP3 earlier on Saturday, Hamilton was quick to turn up the heat once again in Q2 by posted a fastest lap of 1:26.893 early on. Although Rosberg was able to get within three-tenths of his teammate, the German driver was forced to settle for P2 once again.
A late flurry of times saw the final positions inside the top ten change hands quickly, but Lotus was the eventual beneficiary, getting both of its cars into Q3. Carlos Sainz Jr. put in a great display to finish P8 in the standings, but teammate Max Verstappen was less fortunate, sitting P12 in the final standings after making a mistake on his final Q2 lap.
Hamilton sent out an early statement of intent in Q3 by going a full 2.4 seconds quicker than the rest of the field with his first lap time. Although Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was able to halve this deficit, in the sister Mercedes, Rosberg made a rare qualifying error. By going off at the second to last corner, the German ruined his first timed lap, handing provisional pole to Hamilton.
When Rosberg did eventually post a lap time, it was still half a second down on Hamilton, but the Briton elected to complete his final lap and find an additional one-tenth of a second to secure the first pole position of the season.
Williams had been due to lock out the second row of the grid, only for a mistake from Valtteri Bottas to leave the Finn down in P6. Sebastian Vettel qualified an excellent fourth for Ferrari on debut behind Felipe Massa, with Kimi Raikkonen fifth.
Home favorite Daniel Ricciardo made the best of a bad situation at Red Bull to qualify seventh, finishing less than two-tenths clear of rookie Toro Rosso driver Sainz. Lotus failed to continue its good form in Q3, qualifying ninth and tenth, but Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado already appear in far better shape in 2015 than they were last year.
At the front though, there is no denying that Mercedes remains the team to beat. What will be most worrying to Rosberg is the gap to Hamilton at the front, but the Briton will only use this as a starting point for his championship bid in 2015.
Be sure to join us from 12:30a ET tomorrow to watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra.