Reigning Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton has broken the all-time lap record to qualify fastest for the Australian Grand Prix (GP).
Mercedes driver Hamilton will begin his title defence from the best possible place on Sunday, having qualified in pole position in the Melbourne GP for the fourth consecutive time and record-breaking seventh time in total.
However, despite qualifying in pole position for the race on six previous occasions, the four-time world champion has won the race only twice.
Hamilton’s best time of 1:21.164 on Saturday was almost a full second faster than Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen who qualified in second place with a time of 1:21.828.
“My heart is racing right now. I’m so grateful to the Aussies having us here every year. I’m so happy with that lap,” Hamilton said immediately following qualifying.
Sebastian Vettel, widely considered the biggest threat to Hamilton’s championship aspirations, will begin from the second row of the grid where he will be joined by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Earlier on Saturday, Ferrari looked set to end Hamilton’s qualifying dominance at Albert Park after Vettel and Raikkonen were fastest in the third practice session of the weekend.
“It was a decent job, obviously the lap time difference is very big… but we have to be happy with where we’re starting the race,” Raikkonen said.
Rain earlier in the day threatened to cause chaos in qualifying but conditions eased and the track was able to dry before qualifying began at 5pm local time.
The improved conditions were not enough to save Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas who hit a wall hard at the end of the second qualifying session, rendering him unable to participate in the third and final session.
Despite qualifying fifth-fastest, the Red Bull of local hope Daniel Ricciardo will start in eighth place after the West Australian incurred a three-place grid penalty for speeding under red flag conditions in Friday’s second practice session.
The HAAS Ferrari’s of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean and the Renault’s of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz rounded out the top 10 with all four recording best tines two seconds closer than that of Hamilton.
The Australian GP begins at 4:10pm local time on Sunday.