Lewis Hamilton couldn't keep the smile off his face after qualifying third fastest behind the two Red Bulls in Melbourne, but admitted that he may struggle to keep pace with them in the early stages of the Australian Grand Prix.
The Briton had been largely overshadowed by Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg through the first two phases of qualifying, split by some 15 hours after incessant rain caused the session to be postponed on Saturday afternoon, but came good when it mattered on a drying track in Q3.
While Rosberg had admitted that he would have been happy if the Albert Park track remained wet after topping Q1, it was Hamilton to whom the conditions came, as a dry line dictated the move to Pirelli's slick tyres in the final few minutes. Having posted a 'banker' lap on intermediates, the switch allowed the Briton to improve to a mark of 1min 28.087secs, the only non Red Bull driver to get within a second of pole.
“The conditions were very tricky out there today and the team did a great job to get us out at the right times,” Hamilton admitted, “I haven't had the best of weekends so far, so I'm happy to have finally put a good lap together today.”
Despite his contentment at securing a place on row two, however, Hamilton issued a note of caution regarding his tyres for the race later in the day.
“I've done a lap more than Sebastian [Vettel] on my tyres, so I might struggle to go as long on the first stint - but I'll give it everything I can in the race this afternoon,” he warned, “The team have worked incredibly hard, both here and at the factories in Brackley and Brixworth, and they deserve a good result. We've got a good baseline to work from with this car but only time will tell where we can go from here.”
Rosberg, who also set the best time in a Q2 session where intermediates were the way to go throughout, could only manage sixth in the final session, but tried hard not to be too downbeat.
“I was very quick in the wet but, later, it didn't work out as well on the slicks,” he conceded, “Still, that's a good team result this morning if you compare to where we were at the end of last year. We have made some good progress over the winter, which is down to the fantastic work of the team back at the factories.
“However, we can also see that there is still a gap to the quickest team, but the race
will be a different story and I expect to have good pace, which will help me gain positions.”
Both Toto Wolff and Ross Brawn praised the team for its efforts in challenging conditions, with the latter suggesting that it could still improve its positions in the race.
“The first objective in a qualifying session like that is to be on the right tyre at the right time and the team ran the session as we would hope to,” Brawn confirmed, “Lewis and Nico both did an excellent job and didn't miss any of the opportunities that came their way. The car seems to be handling well and we will have to see how that develops in the race. Overall, a reasonable start.”