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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton stole pole position from under the nose of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo during a dramatic, rain-affected qualifying session in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon.

After a dry start to proceedings, the heavens were threatening all day finally opened up in the final minutes of the first qualifying phase, with the weather deteriorating enough to warrant the use of Pirelli’s Full Wet tyre in the final shootout.

The works Mercedes machines of Nico Rosberg and Hamilton had control over the field after the first flurry of flying laps, with the German marque’s strong dry weather pace carrying straight over to wet conditions.

While team-mate Sebastian Vettel suffered a Q2 elimination due to technical issues, Ricciardo was able to slash the gap to the leaders in the tricky conditions, emerging as Rosberg and Hamilton’s greatest threat in the battle for the top spot.

On the final timed runs of the extended 12 minute session, Rosberg recovered from an off-track excursion at the Turn 9/10 chicane to take provisional pole position, but Ricciardo, one of the few drivers to gamble on the Intermediate rubber, and finally Hamilton made impressive gains after the chequered flag had dropped.

Kevin Magnussen was best of the rest behind a top three covered by 0.364 seconds. While fellow McLaren driver Jenson Button dropped out in Q2.

Fernando Alonso was left to lead Ferrari’s charge after team-mate Kimi Räikkönen crashed out at the end of the second phase, the Spaniard taking fifth position, narrowly ahead of Toro Rosso’s Jean-Éric Vergne. The latter’s team-mate, Daniil Kvyat, also made it through to claim eighth, just behind Force India driver Nico Hülkenberg.

t straightforward today, especially because of traffic,” Räikkönen said. “When I was on a quick lap, I had a car in front of me at every corner. That stopped me getting a clean lap and at the end of Q2, I spun off damaging the front wing.

“I don’t think I’d have gone quicker anyway, as I had already reduced my speed at this point, because I knew already I wouldn’t make it to Q3. It’s a shame, because compared to yesterday we have made some steps forward.”

“In the wet we were quick and I had more feeling for the car. We know we have a lot of work to do in every area, especially on car set-up, but at the same time, we are sure we are going in the right direction.

Williams’s Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas completed the top ten positions, although the latter will be hit with a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, promoting key Q2 eliminees Button, Räikkönen and Vettel.

Sauber driver Adrian Sutil, Kamui Kobayashi – who impressively squeezed his Caterham into Q2 by using the early dry weather to his advantage – and Force India’s Sergio Pérez also fell at the second hurdle.

Despite narrowly missing out on progression to Q2, Max Chilton was encouraged after getting the better of Marussia team-mate Jules Bianchi. The pair edged out Esteban Gutiérrez and Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson.

At the tail-end of the order, Lotus’s nightmare start to the 2014 campaign continued. Romain Grosjean was the last of the timed runners in Q1, while Pastor Maldonado spun out of the running. Gutiérrez, who has also been hit with a gearbox penalty, saves the pair the embarrassment of sharing the back row of the grid.

Qualifying results – 2014 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix

Pos. Driver Team Time Laps
1. L. Hamilton Mercedes 01:44.231 22
2. D. Ricciardo Red Bull 01:44.548 20
3. N. Rosberg Mercedes 01:44.595 21
4. K. Magnussen McLaren 01:45.745 19
5. F. Alonso Ferrari 01:45.819 21
6. J. Vergne Toro Rosso 01:45.864 21
7. N. Hulkenberg Force India 01:46.030 20
8. D. Kvyat Toro Rosso 01:47.368 20
9. F. Massa Williams 01:48.079 21
10. V. Bottas Williams 01:48.147 19
11. J. Button McLaren 01:44.437 13
12. K. Raikkonen Ferrari 01:44.494 13
13. S. Vettel Red Bull 01:44.668 13
14. A. Sutil Sauber 01:45.655 12
15. K. Kobayashi Caterham 01:45.867 13
16. S. Perez Force India 01:47.293 13
17. M. Chilton Marussia 01:34.293 5
18. J. Bianchi Marussia 01:35.794 5
19. E. Gutiérrez Sauber 01:35.117 7
20. M. Ericsson Caterham 01:35.157 5
21. R. Grosjean Lotus 01:36.993 6
22. P. Maldonado Lotus no time 3
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Hi, I have been a Formula 1 fanatic since 1987 when my family took me to the Adelaide GP. I now enjoy close friendships with team members at Ferrari and within the Holden Racing Team (V8Supercars).
  • Rapierman

    That has got to be the most unpredictable qualifying session I’ve ever seen. This bodes well for the main race.

  • jeff

    I’d love to read opinions on what people believe the pecking order is. Rain made it difficult to discern.

    Are Kimi/K. Magnussen right, that the rain helped their respective teams? Is Red Bull’s scary form legitimate? What happened to Williams front-running quali-pace? It would have been nice to see a clean quail day for the 1st race.

    However, all the unpredictability is somewhat fitting for an unpredictable season; thoroughly enjoyed it. I just hope the nagging feeling that Red Bull is already in the top 5, and will find cures to it’s apparent long-run-pace deficiencies, is unfounded. No offense to the team, but another year of them dominating and I’ll scream.

    • Shocks & Awe

      I think Williams suffered the most with the rain. If it’s dry I expect to see them do better. Massa especially, from what I can remember, has never been very good in the wet, so that doesn’t help either. The Red Bull form clearly indicates that they have a good chassis, but that has never really been in doubt this pre-season, so in a situation where the engine isn’t being pushed to the limit, it’s not surprising to me to see them at the sharp end. If they sort out the engine issues, they’ll be right back in contention, which is where we all thought they’d be before we saw their issues in testing. Merc looks solid, it’s going to be an interesting battle between HAM and ROS all year I think. TR looks good too, but I expect (hope!) them to swap with WIliams in the dry. Force India seems to be the best of the rest, but they are pretty far off the pace. Ferrari seem to once again have the 3rd or 4th best car. Alonso will continue to punch above his weight, but he must be extremely frustrated. Mclaren have taken a step forward since last year, but they’re still not where they should be. Magnussen was impressive though. I think the pecking order on everall performance is Mercedes, Redbull, Mclaren, Ferrari, Williams, STR, FI, Sauber, Caterham, Marrusia, Lotus. Reliability is another story of course…

    • Tom

      Actually, as I said before, I do expect Ferrari to do really well throughout the season. What did surprise me was the return to form from all the Renault teams save Lotus. Now it will be interesting how their engines hold up in the race. If they do well, I could certainly see Vettel genuinely gunning for his fifth title this year, something that I wouldn’t have believed before Australia.

      I was most disappointed by Williams though. While the rain apparently didn’t help, they were off pace throughout the weekend so far. Reliability could of course be their trump card, but in terms of raw speed I don’t think they can reach the podium on merit.

      The biggest positive surprise was Toro Rosso. Amazing how they both got into Q3. Although conditions may have played into their cards.

      Mercedes is of course still the favorite, they were quick throughout the weekend, no matter the conditions. But now it seems as if Red Bull can be competitive. McLaren and Ferrari will also keep Mercedes honest.

      Now we have to wait and see how the race pans out in order to get a feeling for the reliability issue. I could easily see it go either way. Maybe almost every car finishes, maybe half the field drops out. Impossible to predict.

      One thing I’m looking forward to though is the fact that this years cars will be much more difficult to drive: More power, more torque, less downforce and the brake-by-wire system will probably lead to a lot more driver errors than we have seen in past years, that should spice things up while simultaneously benefitting the better drivers. The only possible spoiler being the fuel restriction. At first I though that it was a good idea, but now I changed my position. I think that at least in conjunction with all the other engine regulation, it’s bad, because it punishes teams who build more powerful engines and more downforce cars. I think I’d still like it in a formula where engine development weren’t as restricted as it is now as a means to limit their power output, but when the engines are already limited by the rules to the degree they are, it really doesn’t make much sense anymore. On the negative side, it could prevent actual racing by the same token that the high-degredation tires did last year. Still, ‘m looking foreword to the race in order to find out…