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Hamilton rules new-look qualifying

Lewis Hamilton storms to his 50th career pole at Melbourne's Albert Park.

By Sarah Holt

  

Formula 1 may have new rules for qualifying but it was business as usual for Lewis Hamilton.

 

The world champion stormed to pole position for the Australian Grand Prix with a sizzling hot lap of one minute 23.837 seconds as Mercedes locked out the front row.

 

“They were some sexy laps,” Hamilton said. “It felt so good, just flowing, I'm really happy.”

 

Nico Rosberg's run of six straight pole positions came to an abrupt end in Melbourne, as he finished second to Hamilton, and 0.360 seconds adrift.

 

“Lewis just did a better job,” the German said. "I’m not happy with second, but there are still a lot of opportunities from there.”

 

The new rules were designed to add some extra spark to F1 but there were no fireworks at the end of qualifying.

 

The fight for pole position was effectively over with three minutes left on the clock after Hamilton put the hammer down and ended Rosberg’s challenge.

 

Ferrari – who as predicted emerged as Mercedes’ closest challengers - chose not to go out again in the final stages.

 

Sebastian Vettel qualified in third – 0.838 seconds adrift of Hamilton – ahead of his teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

 

Max Verstappen lines up for Sunday’s race in Melbourne an encouraging fifth for Toro Rosso ahead of the Williams of Felipe Massa.

 

Carlos Sainz, in the second Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and the two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg completed the top-10.

 

The new qualifying format was given the green light by F1’s governing body, the FIA, just over two weeks ago.

 

Under the new rules, the slowest driver on track is eliminated every 90 seconds throughout the three sessions.   

 

The first driver is knocked out after seven minutes in Q1 with seven eliminated in total. That dubious honour in Melbourne fell to Manor rookie Pascal Wehrlein, who was stranded in his garage.

 

Another seven drivers are knocked out in Q2 with just eight – instead of 10 last season – going through to the shoot-out for pole.

 

After five minutes of Q3, the drivers are, in theory, eliminated one by one until just two are left to duke it out for top spot.

 

The reality at Melbourne’s Albert Park was that many drivers were knocked out while they were sat in the garage or, in the case of Red Bull’s Dany Kvyat, already out of the car and marching down the pit lane.

 

The Russian was the biggest name to lose out under the new format and will start the race in 18th.

 

Inside the McLaren garage, Fernando Alonso was also out of the car and putting on his baseball cap before he had been officially timed out in 12th.

 

The new format may have shifted the focus to clock-watching but there were a few moments of drama for the fans filling Albert Park.

 

In a rush to get out at the very start of qualifying, Rosberg veered onto the grass and Hamilton was held up behind Romain Grosjean’s Haas F1 car.

 

Renault Sport rookie Jolyon Palmer also beat the clock as the Briton pulled himself out of the drop zone to finish 14th in his first-ever F1 qualifying.  

 

But the real star of the show was Hamilton. The three-time world clocked his 50th pole position, to move alongside his hero Ayrton Senna and seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher on the all-time list.

 

“What I mean by sexy laps…” Hamilton explained. “The car felt good, it was just a beautiful rhythm. I felt like James Brown at the end of the lap.”

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