Daniel Ricciardo has described Mercedes’ engine advantage that helped Lewis Hamilton to pole position in Australian Grand Prix qualifying as “a punch in the stomach” to its Formula 1 rivals. 

Hamilton held provisional pole position by a slender margin over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen’s Red Bull following the opening Q3 runs, but the Briton turned in the fastest-ever lap around Albert Park to seal pole by a whopping six tenths, having found an improvement of nearly a second on his final effort. 

The reigning world champion refuted suggestions his Q3 gain was the result of a switch to a faster engine mode, with Ricciardo labelling Hamilton’s significant advantage as “scary”. 

“That sucks,” Ricciardo said. “It is frustrating because everyone else wants to see them get challenged a bit more. That was a little bit of a punch in the stomach to everyone. 

“I know they are loving it, they are in a good position. But everyone else is hating it. So hopefully we can catch up. Hopefully in the race they don’t have as much as that because that is a bit scary that mode they got.”

The Australian qualified fifth in Melbourne behind Red Bull teammate Verstappen, but is set to drop five places on Sunday’s grid after being hit with a five-place grid penalty for driving too fast under red flag conditions during FP2 on Friday.

Ricciardo said he was shocked by the gap to Mercedes, which he added has left him feeling disheartened.

“I didn’t expect that much, particularly from Q2 to Q3. I knew that they would have a bit more, and I expected them to be more than two tenths quicker than us, but to go that much quicker at the end, it was like throwing a pie in everyone’s face. 

“I think Lewis is very good but I don’t think he is too good,” he added. “But the car and their package is too good. It is not to discredit Lewis, not at all, but I think even him at 90 percent with that package that they had today, he still would have got pole. 

“So that is where I feel like any of us top guys could have made that happen. But the buffer that they had then was a little bit disheartening, so we have to try and figure it out.”