19 Mar 2016

Qualification scorned as Hamilton takes pole

9:44 pm on 19 March 2016

Lewis Hamilton took pole for Mercedes at Formula One's season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Saturday but condemnation for the revamped qualifying was almost as quick as the Briton's fastest lap.

Niko Rosberg in Melbourne rain

Niko Rosberg in Melbourne rain Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Mercedes ace broke the 12 year old F1 lap record at Melbourne's Albert Park, clocking 1min 23.387sec.

The new qualification format, based on progressive elimination during the three sessions rather than at the end of them, was intended to instil more excitement but instead proved a monumental flop.

Rather than battle to the finish of each session, drivers posted early laps and then were content to return to their garages.

The last few minutes of both the final sessions petered out with no drivers on track, sapping the entire process of suspense.

Hamilton celebrated his 50th pole after posting a lap of one minute 25.351 seconds, with second-placed team mate Nico Rosberg nowhere near his time.

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen are third and fourth on the grid, having confined themselves to the garage after one flying lap apiece, not bothering to even attempt to catch Hamilton's time.

The new qualifying format, which eliminates the slowest drivers at 90-second intervals, came under immediate fire from racing pundits as a system that rewarded those with better timing than superior racing skills.

Max Verstappen will line up fifth for Toro Rosso with Felipe Massa sixth for Willliams.

Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz is seventh on the grid, with Daniel Ricciardo eighth.

Renault rookie Jolyon Palmer snuck into Q2 after the clock had run down on the first 16-minute session with a last flying lap that tipped Sauber's Marcus Ericsson out.

Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat was among the first seven eliminated, along with both drivers from Manor Racing, Haas and Sauber.