Australian GP: Hamilton claims pole in qualifying round

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Melbourne, March 24 (IANS) Lewis Hamilton secured pole position on Saturday after the qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix, becoming the first driver to take seven career poles at Albert Park.

The British Mercedes driver pulled out an all-time lap record time of 1:21.164 at the close of Q3, ahead of Ferrari duo Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, reports EFE news agency.

“My heart’s racing. I’m so happy with that lap, and I’m always striving for perfection,” Hamilton said on track after Q3.

With overtaking always difficult in Melbourne, a solid qualifying session and a healthy pole position ahead of Sunday’s race is crucial.

Hamilton’s final lap in qualifying was hugely impressive, going flat out to overtake Ayrton Senna’s record of six poles in Melbourne.

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“What was surprising was seeing how quick the Ferraris were,” he added.

Mercedes, winners of the driver’s championship for four years running, looked strong in pre-season and during Friday’s practice sessions.

Despite fears that Mercedes would continue its recent dominance into the 2018 season, qualifying strongly suggested that Red Bull and Ferrari would be competitive this year and at least give the German team a run for its money.

Vettel’s fastest time in Q2, and his solid showing in Q3, confirmed Ferrari had the pace to compete with Mercedes and that he would push Hamilton all the way this year, as both drivers look to add a fifth world championship title to their respective hauls.

Dutch youngster Max Verstappen out-qualified his more experienced Red Bull teammate Ricciardo, posting a fastest time of 1:21.879, 0.04 seconds behind Vettel, and will start Sunday in fourth place.

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Local hero Ricciardo, who was handed a three-place grid penalty on Friday for failing to slow down enough while the red flag was thrown, will be disappointed not to have beaten Verstappen, and will start in eighth position on Sunday.

Valtteri Bottas’ Q3 was ended early after he crashed heavily into the wall at Turn 2, interrupting the session.

The Finn will face a race against time for his car to be in working order by Sunday’s race.

–IANS

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