World champion Lewis Hamilton scorched to pole position more than half-a-second faster than team-mate Nico Rosberg as he led a Mercedes one-two at Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday.

Hamilton’s 39th career pole came from a dominating performance, with a sizzling lap time of one minute 26.327 seconds at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

It was Hamilton’s fourth pole in Australia as he bids to win for the first time in Melbourne since 2008.

Rosberg, who looked as if he would miss out on the front row after taking to the grass, hit back with a flying 1:26.921 final lap, still six-tenths off his fierce rival.

Brazilian Felipe Massa in a Williams was third fastest in 1:27.718, ahead of four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel for his new Ferrari team.

Last year Hamilton also started off the pole in Melbourne but was forced out with mechanical problems after just four laps.

“It’s a great start to the weekend. We found a good balance today and it was about trying to push those laps,” Hamilton said.

“Last year showed that even though I didn’t win that first race it wasn’t the end of the world.

“But of course the plan tomorrow is to have a better start to the season and today is the first step in that direction.”

Rosberg, who went on to win last year’s race, is optimistic about his chances even though he was significantly slower than Hamilton’s best lap.

“It’s not because of the pace difference, for sure, Lewis was quick but I didn’t get my laps together today,” the German said.

“So I’m not worried about pace at all to be honest. But races are always a different thing so maybe I can even turn it around tomorrow.”

– McLaren woe –

Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was fifth ahead of Valtteri Bottas in a Williams and Australian Daniel Ricciardo struggled to keep up, finishing seventh in his Red Bull.

“Mercedes are in a different category,” Massa said, reflecting the mood of the other teams.

“For sure it’s not great to see this difference, but we keep working, we keep fighting and I hope we can get as close as we can.

“Red Bull is not really there for the moment and I am sure that Red Bull will get there but for now Ferrari is really strong and they have made a big step forward compared to last year.”

Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Romain Grosjean (Lotus) and Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) filled out the top 10. 

Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, set to become the youngest ever Formula One driver at 17 years and 166 days in Sunday’s race, was among the five drivers eliminated in Q2.

Verstappen, driving a Toro Rosso, finished 12th fastest and missed out along with Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat and Force India pair Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. 

After Sauber’s legal turmoil this week, finally resolved when Giedo van der Garde gave up his seat despite a court ruling in his favour, Nasr got to within 0.076sec of Q3.

The struggling McLarens of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen both failed to make Q2 after finishing 16th and 17th in the first stage and will start on the back row of the race grid.

Button, a three-time Australian Grand Prix winner, was a substantial 2.836sec off the pace, emphasising the McLaren’s problems since their incomplete off-season testing.

The last time Button qualified as low as 17th was at the 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix. 

The McLarens were behind the Sauber pair of Nasr and Marcus Ericsson. Brazil’s Nasr scraped into the last spot in Q2 ahead of his team-mate Ericsson. 

The Manor pair of Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi, who were unable to take part in practice as the new team gets on its feet, did not take part in qualifying. – Agence France-Presse

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