Lewis Hamilton set a new track record – and then beat it again – as he took pole position for the Australian Grand Prix.
The reigning world champion clocked a one minute 21.014-second lap in Q2 and went more than half a second faster to claim his 84th career pole and sixth consecutive at Albert Park.
He will start alongside team-mate Valtteri Bottas who went faster than Hamilton with his first flying lap in Q3 but was pipped by 0.112 seconds to complete a Mercedes lockout of the front row.
Hamilton had been top of every practice session going into Saturday’s qualification under blue skies in Melbourne and set a new track record with a tidy lap in the second qualifying session, surpassing it in the top 10 shootout.
Vettel’s team-mate Charles Leclerc starts fifth ahead of Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, while British rookie Lando Norris clocked a lap of one minute 22.304 seconds and will start eighth.
There was to be no home luck for Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo who failed to make it out of Q2 by 0.038 seconds, while Verstappen’s team-mate Pierre Gasly was a shock exit in the first qualifying session and will start Sunday’s race in 18th, ahead of the Williams duo of George Russell and Robert Kubica.
Lewis Hamilton set out his intent with a practice double ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
The reigning world champion had said his team had “work to do” after Ferrari proved faster in pre-season testing in Barcelona. But no-one could match the Silver Arrows under blue skies at Melbourne’s Albert Park in second practice on Friday afternoon.
First Valtteri Bottas went around in one minute 22.648 seconds to lead the pack halfway through the 90-minute session with his first lap on soft tyres – half a second quicker than his pace on mediums.
Then Hamilton went purple in his first sector and laid down a marker ahead of Saturday’s qualifying session with a time of 1min 22.600secs.
The Mercedes team, who have won the constructors championship for the last five seasons, look in imperious form with the remaining pack at least 0.8 seconds behind the 34-year-old Briton.
Such was the dominance of Mercedes that Hamilton’s quickest time on the slower medium compound – one minute 23.148 seconds – would have been good enough for second place.
Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc for Ferrari, under new management this season, managed to get within hundredths of a second in first practice but were left with food for thought.
The German, a four-time winner of the world championship, recorded a fastest lap of one minute 23.473 – an improvement of 0.164 seconds compared to FP1 and only good enough for fifth place.
His teammate Leclerc fared even worse, spinning out at turn five late in the session and finishing ninth in the classification, 1.154 seconds behind Hamilton.
Red Bull took third and fourth, with Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly separated by 0.042 seconds, while Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Australian Daniel Ricciardo found the pace they missed in the first session to come in seventh and eighth respectively.
Kimi Raikkonen, preparing for his 17th Australian Grand Prix, was a tenth of a second behind Vettel in his Alfa Romeo for sixth, with Haas driver Romain Grosjean rounding out the top ten 1.214 seconds off the pace of Hamilton.
Just as was the case in first practice, two of the British newcomers finished in the bottom three in second practice.
Lando Norris was more than two seconds behind the lead with a best lap of one minute 24.733 seconds in his McLaren – 0.6 seconds behind teammate Carlos Sainz – while the Williams duo of George Russell and Robert Kubica were at the back of the pack with a deficit of 3.853 and 4.055 seconds respectively.
Hamilton had bagged early bragging rights over rival Vettel after clocking the fastest time in opening practice. Ferrari may have had the edge after pre-season testing, but it was the Mercedes driver who set the pace with a lap of one minute 23.599 seconds on soft tyres.
In response to the reigning champion, Leclerc gave an indication of what the Ferrari was capable of, recording a lap of one minute 23.673 seconds, before Vettel went four-hundredths of a second quicker for second place with one minute 23.637 seconds.
Verstappen recorded a time of one minute 23.792 seconds, good enough for fourth place and was followed by Hamilton’s team-mate Bottas on one minute 23.866 seconds.
The midfield was a packed affair – with 0.682 seconds separating Raikkonen in sixth and Sergio Perez in 16th.
Daniil Kvyat in his Toro Rosso was 0.1 seconds quicker than Red Bull’s Gasly, with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen and Hulkenberg rounding out the top 10.
There was late drama in the session, with rookie Toro Rosso driver Alex Albon losing his front wing after a spin at turn two, leading to a red flag, while Bottas braked on the grass and nearly put his Mercedes in the wall at the penultimate corner.
Renault struggled, an electrical problem consigning Hulkenberg to the pits for the majority of the session and Ricciardo struggling to find pace on his home track with a deficit of two seconds behind Hamilton.
Albon is one of three rookies who will be making their F1 debut in Australia, with Britons Norris and Russell occupying two of the bottom three spots.
Norris was clearly keen to get his eye in at Albert Park, completing 31 laps with a fastest time of one minute 25.966 seconds for 18th place, while Russell was five seconds off the pace in 20th with a time of one minute 28.740 seconds.
British rookie Lando Norris completed more than 600 laps of Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit on a simulator and is feeling “excited” ahead of his Formula One debut.
The 19-year-old, from Bristol, is one of three drivers who will line up for their first race in Australia, along with fellow Brit George Russell for Williams and London-born Alexander Albon for Toro Rosso.
The McLaren driver, team-mate of Carlos Sainz, revealed he had been working on the simulator in preparation.
Norris said: “You can only get to a certain point when you feel confident with the simulator and it always changes when you get to the track and you actually drive it for real for the first time.”
When asked if he won when he raced at home, Norris paused for a couple of seconds before admitting: “No.
“I was driving on F1 2018 and was just doing time trials against the other guys…I think I’ll stick to actual driving,” he said.
“I can’t drive as myself yet, maybe I’ll drive as someone else (on F1 2019) and see if I can beat myself.
“It is a cool thing, growing up and seeing all the big names and choosing Lewis (Hamilton) or Jenson (Button) and finally seeing your own name on it, it’s just a cool thing to think about and to see.”
Norris finished second behind Russell in last season’s Formula 2 Championship and said it was easier not being the centre of attention as the only newbie.
He said: “It’s going to be fun to hopefully race them but it does make it a bit easier overall, a bit less pressure in terms of being a rookie but not a lot.
“There’s still a lot of pressure whatever the circumstances when you race with McLaren and you’re in your first race weekend.”
Speaking about the upcoming Grand Prix, he said: “I can still win a race if our aim is to finish in the points or beat the other teams apart from the top three, things like that.
“We can still win in terms of achieving our goal of the weekend or the race. It’s more about goal setting and achieving those rather than the outright win.”