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By Alan Davies, Formula One correspondent
Saturday, March 17, 2012
LEWIS Hamilton looks to complete the perfect start to the new Formula 1 season with victory in the opening 2012 Australian Grand Prix tomorrow (Sunday) morning.
The 27-year-old F1 driver from Hertfordshire will start the 2012 curtain-raiser from pole position.
After going quickest in qualifying around Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit with a flying hot lap of 1m 24.922s, Hamilton will be looking to secure his 18th win.
He was delighted at bagging the 20th pole position of his McLaren career on Saturday.
“My first lap in Q3 felt pretty special – at the end of it, I felt it’d be surprising if anyone could push ahead of that,” said Hamilton. “I tried even harder on my final run, but braked a little too late into the first corner and spoiled the lap.
* 148th pole for McLaren
* 69th pole for McLaren-Mercedes
* 23rd pole for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
* 20th pole for Lewis Hamilton
* 1st all-McLaren front row since Hungary 2008
* 1st front-row lock-out for Lewis and Jenson Button
“After that, I was just hoping that nobody would go any quicker.”
Nobody did and Hamilton will line up on the front row with team-mate Jenson Button alongside him after a dominant display by Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.
Hamilton added: “I just love qualifying, especially when you get the lap just right; when it all flows, the tyres work and you hit the sweet-spot everywhere. It’s like heaven.
“Today we showed that we not only have the most beautiful car in Formula 1, but also the fastest!
“Of course, there’s still a long way to go tomorrow – looking after the tyres will be key – but we’re in the best possible position to have a strong race.”
Lotus driver Romain Grosjean is third on the starting grid, with Michael Schumacher completing the second row for Mercedes GP.
The Red Bull pairing of Mark Webber and defending F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel could only qualify fifth and sixth respectively.
Lewis praised his Woking-based outfit after a couple of lean years.
He said: “I’m massively proud of my team. We’ve been working incredibly hard throughout the winter: we’ve never given up, and everyone has just kept pushing and pushing.
“We’ve had some tough years, but everyone in this team wants to succeed: to be the best. I’m proud that I was able to do the job for them today.”
Button was also in buoyant mood in the post-qualifying press conference after clocking 1m 25.074s for second place on the grid.
“Lewis nailed a great lap in Q3, but I think the whole team is really happy to have both cars on the front row – it’s been a long time coming to have the two of us there together,” said the 2009 F1 world champion.
"Today we showed that we not only have the most beautiful car in Formula 1, but also the fastest!"
“You always want to be first, but I couldn’t quite do that today.
“Nevertheless, I think we both want to thank the team – it’s a big vindication of how far we’ve come this winter.
“And that’s been crucial: having a good winter can really make the difference.
“We still don’t know exactly how strong our car will be in the race, but yesterday [Friday] it appeared to be consistent and looked after the tyres during the stint.
* Race distance: 58 laps (307.574km/191.110 miles)
* Start time: 17:00 (local)/06:00 (GMT)
* Circuit length: 5.303km/3.295 miles
* 2011 winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)
* 2011 pole: Sebastian Vettel 1m 23.529s (228.552km/h)
* Lap record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) 1m24.125s (226.933km/h)
“Tomorrow [Sunday] will be about getting the tyres to the right working temperature and looking after them across the stint.
“Tomorrow is the important day, and today is about making life easier for tomorrow. Still, this has been a great day for everyone in the team.”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh was delighted at McLaren claiming a front-row lock-out in Melbourne.
“It feels very good to be back at the front of the grid, not only bagging pole position but also P2, to tie up the entire front row for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes,” said Hamilton’s team boss.
“Both our drivers have driven really well all weekend, and this afternoon they were fantastic.
“Lewis’s pole lap – the 148th in McLaren’s Formula 1 history – was a brilliant combination of commitment and control.
“It wasn’t easy though, for either Lewis or Jenson. Traffic was a challenge in Q1, and in Q2 and Q3 it was a question of working hard to get the best out of the tyres.
“But, as I say, today we notched up McLaren’s 148th ever Grand Prix pole position, and tomorrow we’ll be aiming to score McLaren’s 176th ever Grand Prix victory.”
Whitmarsh added: “We think we’ll have a good race car; we know we’ll have two great race drivers; so, although we never under-estimate our competition, and although we’re sure tomorrow’s race will be as demanding as it will be entertaining, I guess you could say that we fancy our chances.”
The 2012 Australian Grand Prix starts at 5pm local time, 6am GMT, on Sunday.