Lewis Hamilton was in high spirits after producing a blistering start to the defence of his Formula One title.
Hamilton was due to start from pole position in this morning’s Australian Grand Prix, the 39th pole of his career, his fourth at Melbourne’s Albert Park, and third in the last four years. The Briton was so dominant not even Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg could touch the 30-year-old, whose lap of one minute 26.327secs was 0.6secs clear of the German.
As for the rest, they were cast adrift, with Williams’ Felipe Massa lining up third on the grid, but almost 1.4secs off the pace.
Even at this early stage the season threatens to again be a two-horse affair between Hamilton and Rosberg as Mercedes have moved on apace from last year.
Assessing his sensational display, Hamilton said: “I’m really happy with what I did, particularly coming off a season like last year with the performance we had. Then there was the expectation coming into this season we should again have a car to compete, with the pressure upped again, and also, with me being a champion, you become a target.
“I’m going to try and see if I can hit those heights every weekend from now on, if that’s possible.”
As to the considerable gap, with Rosberg showing the strain of trying to match Hamilton as he made a mistake in the final session, Hamilton added: “It’s hard to believe.
“Last year it was the best car I’d ever driven, and I commented on that many times. It’s easy to then get it wrong by making drastic changes and getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we didn’t. To make the steps forward we have, the team have done an amazing job and it now is the best car I’ve driven.”
As to whether anyone can hold a candle to Mercedes, he replied: “We definitely didn’t expect the gap to be as big as it was – at least I didn’t. Ultimately tomorrow it’s going to be a battle between me and Nico.”
If only Jenson Button could enjoy such a relaxed position as the 35-year-old was set to start on the back row of the grid alongside McLaren team-mate Kevin Magnussen. Reunited again with Honda, the Japanese manufacturing giant has struggled with their power unit, leaving McLaren to bring up the rear. The performance, or lack of it, represents McLaren’s worst in qualifying in their history, given Button finished nearly three seconds behind Hamilton after being knocked out at the end of Q1.
Button said: “As a team we expected this race would be difficult, and it won’t be the last race that’s difficult for us. Being on the back row of the grid is never where you want to be when you are in a team that is used to winning grands prix.”
McLaren’s target is simply now to see the chequered flag.
Behind the top three on the grid were Ferrari new boy and four-times champion Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas qualified sixth, but wasn’t sure of a start after suffering back pain which necessitated a trip to the medical centre and the local Alfred Hospital for checks. Only 18 cars were due to start as Manor (Marussia) failed to take part in qualifying due to mechanical issues.