McLaren's Lewis Hamilton was the man to beat today in qualifying for the F1 2012 Australian Grand Prix, as he blitzed the field to claim pole for the season opener.
The Briton's opening salvo in the final phase of the session was enough to confirm him in top spot and, as his rivals fell short one-by-one on their final attempts, he felt comfortable enough to pit without taking the chequered flag. Only world champion Sebastian Vettel was left on track by that point but, such was Red Bull's speed deficit, the German could not improve on his existing mark and had to settle for sixth.
In the end Hamilton was the only man to break the 1m 25s bracket in Q3, his best a 1 minute 24.922 seconds, which put him 0.152 seconds up on his team-mate, Jenson Button. It was Lewis' first pole in Australia since 2008, the year he went to take the drivers' title, and it was also McLaren's first 1-2 in qualifying since the European GP back in 2009.
Behind the McLaren's, Romain Grosjean shone for Lotus and took third late on, only 0.380 seconds off pole. A great effort especially as his illustrious team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen went out in Q1 - more on that later.
Michael Schumacher led the Mercedes challenge in fourth, with both drivers impressing through the session, although Nico Rosberg blew his chance of pole by locking up on his final run. He will start seventh.
Between the two Mercedes drivers, Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were only fifth and sixth. Webber opted for only one run, but still managed to beat Vettel, albeit by just 0.017 seconds. It was a disappointing start to the year for Vettel, given just how many poles he took in 2011.
Pastor Maldonado did well for Williams and will start eighth, ahead of Force India's Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo. Ricciardo elected not to set a time in Q3 and instead saved his tyres for his first top-ten start in front of his home crowd.
Meanwhile, in Q2, both Ferrari's of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa failed to make the cut. Having only narrowly escaped the Q3 'drop zone', Massa was tipped to struggle in the second session, but Alonso replicated the mistake made by others in free practice by putting two wheels on the grass entering turn one, spinning himself deep into the waiting gravel trap. Although he managed to keep the F2012 running, the Spaniard was forced to abandon it with half the session remaining, leaving him at the mercy of his rivals once the red flags were withdrawn. It took some time for the double world champion to be pushed out of third position, but he eventually dropped to twelfth.
Jean-Eric Vergne will start just ahead of the Spaniard in his Toro Rosso. He briefly looked poised to join team-mate Ricciardo in making it through to the final phase of qualifying, but his last lap left him just short.