Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton looks set to break the Australian Grand Prix lap record currently held by Michael Schumacher, after an impressive qualifying session saw him take his fourth-consecutive pole position at Albert Park.
The three-time Formula 1 champion completed his lap in a time of 1:22.188 on Saturday to put him 0.268s ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who will start alongside him on the front row on Sunday.
Hamilton appeared keen to test the car and the new tyres and he got off to a flying start, leading the first two practice sessions as well as Q1 and Q3, with his new teammate Valtteri Bottas showing his potential to lead in Q2.
Mercedes have won the last three season openers, with the now-retired world champion Nico Rosberg finishing ahead of the Briton in the last campaign.
The current record of 1:24.125 was set by Schumacher 13 years ago and the win in Melbourne was the first of 13 chequered flags that season, as he won his seventh and final Drivers’ Championship while driving for Ferrari.
Along with more durable tyres there have been a raft of technical changes that have been introduced as the sport looks to increase competition and supporter interest. The rear wings are lower and with wider versions at the front, an average of fours seconds are set to be cut from traditional lap times.
Over the past few years, cars have been on average one second faster around the Melbourne stadium with Daniel Ricciardo's 2016 fastest lap of 1:28.997 nearly two seconds faster than the 1:30.945 Hamilton timed in 2015 on his way to his third world title. Rosberg clocked 1:32.478 on his way to the podium in 2015.
Australian Grand Prix 2017 - top five qualifying times
1. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 1:22.188
2. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari 1:22.456
3. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Mercedes 1:22.481
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 1:23.033
5. Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull - TAG Heuer 1:23.485