Lewis Hamilton is in prime position to open his Formula One championship with a victory after storming to pole at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Hamilton was in a class of one as he steered his Mercedes to the front slot of the grid with an utterly emphatic display which will send out an all-to-familiar warning to his rivals.
The 33-year-old British driver’s best lap was more than an eye-watering six tenths of a second faster than the rest of the field with Kimi Raikkonen edging out his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel for second.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen qualified fourth ahead of his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who is due to serve a three-place grid drop following an infringement in practice on Friday.
But it was not a perfect session for Hamilton’s Mercedes team after Valtteri Bottas crashed into the wall and out of qualifying at the exit of turn two.
Bottas emerged unscathed from the 110mph smash, which happened on his very first lap in the battle for pole, but the same could not be said of his car.
The rear of his Mercedes, which bore the brunt of the high-speed impact was destroyed with bits of his car littering the asphalt. Bottas was taken to the medical centre for a precautionary check-up before he was swiftly given the all-clear.
The session was suspended to deal with the swathes of Mercedes debris on the track, but following a 10-minute delay, the top-10 shootout resumed and it was Hamilton who blitzed the pack with a lap he described as close to perfection.
“You would think that with these results we have had it would start to feel like the norm, but it doesn’t,” said an ecstatic Hamilton after securing his seventh pole in Melbourne.
“My heart is racing. I am so happy with that lap. It was such a nice lap. I am always striving for perfection and that was as close as I could get.”
McLaren arrived here in Melbourne on the back foot after a thoroughly underwhelming pre-season campaign which was blighted by reliability issues.
They ran into further trouble here on Friday after their star driver Fernando Alonso and his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne suffered exhaust leaks.
Both men managed to get through qualifying in one piece, but they fell at the second phase with Alonso due to start 11th and Vandoorne 12th.
The McLaren hierarchy had targeted a battle with Red Bull this season following their divorce from Honda engines and switch to Renault power.
But Alonso was more than one second adrift of the Red Bull cars, proving there is plenty of work to be done by the Woking marque. Indeed, Alonso qualified 13th in Melbourne last year, and 12th in 2016.
“That is okay,” said Alonso, when informed of his grid position, but you fancy both the Spaniard and his team will have harboured greater expectations heading into the opening race.
Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean qualified an impressive sixth and seventh for Haas ahead of the Renault duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz.