Lewis Hamilton insists the pace Mercedes produced over Ferrari has been a surprise at the Australian Grand Prix but is wary of a familiar fightback from the Italian manufacturer in the race.

The reigning F1 world champion saw off teammate Valtteri Bottas to claim his 84th career pole position and sixth consecutive pole at Albert Park.

The feat sees Hamilton match Ayrton Senna (Imola) and Michael Schumacher (Suzuka) for most pole positions at the same Grand Prix with a total of eight poles.

While Hamilton’s 1m 20.486s stunned the rest of the F1 field, it also surprised the British driver who says Mercedes’ pace has improved drastically in Australia despite accusations of sandbagging during pre-season testing.

“There was absolutely no sense of this pace from testing on day one to the last day when we went back to the factory and knew we had work to do,” Hamilton explained. “I felt like we had a good package to work with but we were wary we might be slightly behind, that’s what we honestly thought.

“Coming from Barcelona we’ve made some really important steps over the past couple of days with setup and we’ve brought that here and it seems to have worked. There was also a bit of work done after those two weeks where we analysed everything and made some small corrections but I was really not expecting to see the performance difference that we have here.

“I am very, very proud and feel very, very privileged as we worked so hard throughout the winter. There couldn’t be a better way to start the year.

“Valtteri was doing some incredible laps out there so I really had to pull out something special to stay up here at the end.”

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Hamilton says Mercedes had been certain Ferrari had the quicker car at pre-season testing and with a lack of significant upgrades in Australia the pace jump, along with any performance drops from its F1 world title rivals, came as an unexpected boost.

“They showed us a summary of how testing went and we were behind Ferrari,” he said. “From then to now we haven’t changed the car, we’ve understood the car more and know what we have to do to go forwards, but we haven’t brought any upgrades or anything like that.

“Yesterday Ferrari were with us but it looks like when we had level fuel we were on par for performance.

“We were closer than we thought we would be from testing but then all of a sudden they lost some performance and maybe something happened this morning which we were not expecting.

“It is a real shock. When we have the GPS and corner speeds, when you look at his lap in Barcelona the car looked planted and I asked [Vettel] are you running on fumes here or something as it wasn’t the case here. It is a difficult circuit here as it is quite dusty and windy so it could be a number of things.”

 

 

Despite Hamilton’s joy, the British driver is wary that he’s failed to convert his previous three pole positions into victories at the Australian Grand Prix including two consecutive wins for Vettel and Ferrari.

“I am really grateful for where our cars is and that we were able to beat them today,” he said. “But I know that Ferrari are going to be pushing hard and progressing in the coming days.

“Tomorrow I am sure they will put up another good fight as they are always strong here.”

“I must say I’m really overwhelmed after the tests it didn’t look like this at all,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff added. “The team did such a great job, everybody really pulled it in every bit we had, and unbelievable really.

“Unbelievable feeling, obviously we must keep our feet on the ground.”

 

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