'Fired up' Vettel splits Mercedes pair in Australia

Hamilton’s new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was third fastest, but there was disappointment for home hope Daniel Ricciardo, who spun off in his Red Bull in the final qualifying session.

Hamilton, beaten to a fourth F1 world title by the now retired Nico Rosberg last season, is wary of the threat posed by Ferrari, with Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen fourth quickest at Albert Park.

“The rule change has been huge. I’m looking forward to the race, but i think it will be tight,” he told the post-qualifying press conference.

New regulations introduced for the 2017 season have led to faster speeds, with Hamilton setting a new lap record of one minute 22.188 seconds to take his 62nd career pole.

Ferrari had shown enough in pre-season testing to indicate the team will be a threat to Mercedes and four-time champion Vettel was talking up his chances after qualifying.

“We are fired up about tomorrow’s race. The confidence was there from testing and it has been a big winter for us,” said the German.

Joining Hamilton on the front row of the grid for the first time since Bahrain in 2015, Vettel was 15 hundredths of a second quicker than Finland’s Bottas with less than three tenths of a second separating the top three.

‘Third position is not ideal,” admitted Bottas, who is making his debut for Mercedes after replacing Rosberg in the Mercedes line-up.

“In general I’m not happy for the result, but I’m proud of what the team has done.”

Ricciardo, looking to give Red Bull a boost at the start of the season, careered off into the gravel on Turn 14 to leave himself 10th on the grid with teenage teammate Max Verstappen fifth fastest.

“Physically I’m ok, but emotionally it is tough,” he admitted. “The lap was a bit messy, the turn caught me by surprise.”

Ricciardo, a thorn in the side to the all-conquering Mercedes team for the past few seasons, has four F1 career wins, but is desperate to be the first home driver since Alan Jones in 1980 to win in Melbourne.

Elsewhere, Fernando Alonso was a disappointing 12th in the still under-performing McLaren-Honda, with F1 debutant Lance Stroll of Canada 19th, while his Williams teammate Felipe Massa was sixth best

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