F1 2017 Australian Grand Prix qualifying: Lewis Hamilton battles for pole position in Melbourne

PUBLISHED: 04:54 25 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:39 26 March 2017

Lewis Hamilton ahead of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Steve Etherington/Daimler AG - Mercedes-Benz]

Lewis Hamilton ahead of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Steve Etherington/Daimler AG - Mercedes-Benz]

Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton battles for pole position in qualifying for the season-opening 2017 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne today.

Lewis Hamilton ahead of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm/Daimler AG - Mercedes-Benz]Lewis Hamilton ahead of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm/Daimler AG - Mercedes-Benz]

The 32-year-old Mercedes F1 star from Hertfordshire was quickest in Friday’s two practice sessions at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit.

He topped the first practice timesheets with a lap of 1m 24.220s.

The Silver Arrows man went even quicker in second practice with a time of 1m 23.620s – more than half a second faster than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Three-time world champion Hamilton will be hoping to repeat that sort of form around the 5.303km Albert Park circuit in qualifying today (Saturday).

After practice Hamilton said: “We’ve shown good form so far on both the long and short runs and we got every lap done that we wanted to.

“Coming into today [Friday], we really didn’t know where we’d be. We knew from FP1 that the Ferrari’s weren’t at their maximum.

“Of course, in FP2 all of a sudden they were quick. We’ll see tomorrow [in qualifying] how it really stands.”

The Stevenage-born racer dominated all three practice sessions in Melbourne last year, and then took pole position in qualifying with a time of 1m 23.837s.

Despite starting from the front of the grid in 2016, Hamilton had to settle for second place on the Australian GP podium behind Mercedes rival Nico Rosberg.

He’s looking to improve on that this time around. Lewis said: “I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to win this race.”

Hamilton is just 3/10 to start the first GP of the year on pole, and he is 1/2 to win in Australia.

Bookies William Hill have cut his price of winning the 2017 drivers championship from 1/1 to 8/11.

“We were told this season was going to be close however, we cannot see anyone getting close to Lewis this season,” said William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams.

Hamilton’s new Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was P2 and P3 on Friday in practice.

Bottas said after practice yesterday: “It’ll be a busy evening for us tonight looking through all the data to see where we can improve but it’s a reasonable start.

“In terms of our pace, it is only practice, so tomorrow we’ll find out exactly where we are.”

James Allison, Mercedes’ new technical director, said: “Our long run pace looked decent but it’s harder to tell where we stand at this stage in terms of single lap pace.

“We’ll find out tomorrow [Saturday in qualifying]. Overall the car seems strong, so we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do with it.”

Looking ahead to the first Grand Prix of the 2017 season, Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said: “It’s the dawn of a new era – in more ways than one.

“This is the first time that Formula One has changed the rules to make the cars faster. We have new management looking at how we take the sport forward.

“And, in our team, we have seen some significant changes of personnel over the winter. It’s been a busy few months, no doubt. But an extremely exciting time, too.

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton out on track ahead of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Steve Etherington/Daimler AG Mercedes-Benz]Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton out on track ahead of the 2017 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Steve Etherington/Daimler AG Mercedes-Benz]

“The target with these new regulations was to make this generation of F1 cars the quickest in the history of the sport.

“And looking at the results from testing, we’re well on the way to achieving that. It’s something that’s never been done before and that’s a radical change. We’ve even made them look more spectacular.

“Having spoken to the drivers, these machines are violent – just like Formula One cars should be.

Toto Wolff [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm/Daimler AG - Mercedes-Benz]Toto Wolff [Picture: Wolfgang Wilhelm/Daimler AG - Mercedes-Benz]

“I have been out on track watching them and, next to the previous generation of cars, these are properly spectacular cars.

“From a fan perspective – and a part of me will always be a fan – it really is something special. Any true motorsport lover simply has to see them in the flesh.”

Turning towards Mercedes’ 2017 driver line-up, Wolff added: “Lewis and Valtteri are in a great place. They have a respectful and friendly relationship from what we’ve seen in our team briefings so far.

“It’s an exciting time for them because these new cars are a real physical challenge. Both felt from testing that the G-Forces are enormous and they are embracing the new challenge of F1 2017.

“We have tackled with determination the challenge of the new regulations. We have been very successful over the last three years through stable rules – but no team has ever maintained its success over such a big regulation change before.

“In a way, it’s just what the doctor ordered. To have such a challenge is good for the team.

Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff and Red Bull's Christian Horner [Picture: Steve Etherington/Daimler AG - Mercedes-Benz]Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff and Red Bull's Christian Horner [Picture: Steve Etherington/Daimler AG - Mercedes-Benz]

“There is an art to managing expectations. You must not set them too low – but you must also keep them under control.

“With new regulations, everyone starts with zero points. It provides opportunities as well as risks for every team on the grid.

“You only need to look back to 2009 to see how unpredictable Formula One can be, with Brawn winning the Championship after being on the brink of extinction.

“We enter 2017 with that mindset. We take every one of our rivals seriously and respect every team’s ability to find that magic bullet.

“They are all full of very clever people – the best in the world in their fields. We have done the best job we possibly could over the winter and, if we are not the fastest in Melbourne, then it’s about finding out why and what needs to be done to get us back to that top spot.

“It’s a challenge we will take on with great motivation and energy. Setbacks can provide a long-term opportunity because you constantly need to improve yourself.

“What we’ve seen from Barcelona is that the margins at the front of the field have shrunk.

“We’ll see how that pans out in Melbourne, because we still don’t know about the fuel loads, weights or power settings of the other cars.”


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