Formula 1

Lewis Hamilton claims pole position in Australian GP qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton claimed the opening pole position of 2015 with a dominant performance in qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix.

The world champion set an incredible 1:26.327 to beat team-mate Nico Rosberg by just under six tenths of a second as Mercedes proved they remain in a league of their own.

Felipe Massa is best-of-the-rest

Behind the Silver Arrows there was a fierce battle for the second row of the grid between Williams and, one of the most improved teams this season, Ferrari.

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Third place ebbed and flowed between the four drivers throughout the three qualifying segments but come the chequered flag in Q3 it was Felipe Massa who led for Williams less than four hundredths clear of Sebastian Vettel, who himself was only three hundredths ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

All three cars posted a lap time in the 1:27.7's meaning they were 1.4 seconds off the pole time set by Hamilton.

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Valtteri Bottas looked the favourite to take third but problems on both his fast laps in the top 10 shoot-out meant he had to settle for sixth.

Ricciardo saves Red Bull's blushes

Not part of the battle to be best-of-the-rest was Red Bull, who continued to have problems with the Renault power unit.

Already using his second engine of just four allowed this season, Daniel Ricciardo saved the blushes of a team struggling to stay ahead of the midfield, as he claimed seventh, albeit two seconds slower than Hamilton, while team-mate Daniil Kvyat could only manage 13th as a wiring problem hampered his qualifying session.

Before Ricciardo's heroics it seemed likely sister team Toro Rosso would be providing the most competitive Renault-powered cars as both Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen starred on Saturday.

Spaniard Sainz claimed an impressive eighth on his debut while Dutchman Verstappen made an error on his final run and as a result would fail to make the top 10 but 12th is still an impressive effort from the 17-year-old.

Lotus back where they belong

After a torrid 2014, Lotus' move to Mercedes power for this year has brought them back into the top 10 as both drivers made Q3 in Melbourne.

Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado may have had to settle for the fifth row, the Frenchman ahead of the Venezuelan, but in the race, given the power and reliability advantage of the Mercedes engines, it should mean the Enstone-based team is in a strong position against the two Red Bull teams and score good points on Sunday.

McLaren hit stark reality

With Manor unable to take to the racetrack in Melbourne, the problems at McLaren hit home hard as the Honda-powered team filled the back row in qualifying.

Jenson Button did all that he could in the severely underpowered MP4-30 and was only half a tenth slower than the next car of Marcus Ericsson, but ending the session a colossal five seconds off the pace set by Hamilton proves there is a very, very long way to go in the renewed partnership.

Kevin Magnussen was never expected to be as quick as the Briton, given his lack of mileage, and it showed as he ended seven tenths slower than the 2009 champion in 18th.

Felipe Nasr impresses on debut

In the rest of the midfield Sauber finally put their legal wrangles behind them, as Giedo van der Garde dropped his case against the Swiss team, and another débutante, Brazilian Felipe Nasr, showed why he was one of the lead drivers in GP2 last year claiming 11th on the grid two-and-a-half seconds faster than Ericsson.

Force India were always going to have a difficult start to the season after their late start testing with the 2015 car and it showed as they couldn't get close to the top 10 shoot-out but between the two drivers only one thousandth of a second split Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez with the German just ahead of the Mexican as they ended 14th and 15th respectively.

Can Rosberg stop Hamilton?

Back at the front, and Sunday's race is all about the battle between the two Mercedes drivers. Who will claim the first victory of the season?

Hamilton looked to have raised his game on Saturday after Rosberg led on Friday so the impetus is on the German to improve otherwise the trend that developed in those tense final races last year may just continue into 2015.

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