F1: Lewis Hamilton smashes rivals in Australian Grand Prix qualifying

    Story highlights

    • World champion Lewis Hamilton will start opening race of 2015 on pole position
    • Hamilton significantly quicker than Mercedes teammate in Melbourne

    (CNN)Lewis Hamilton laid down a daunting marker for his Formula One rivals at Saturday's qualifying for the opening race of the 2015 season.

    The world champion will start on pole for the Australian Grand Prix, as he did last year and has done on three other occasions in his career.
      While the British driver failed to finish the 2014 race -- the only time he did not convert first on the grid to first at the checkered flag -- he is more hopeful this time as he seeks his first victory in Melbourne since winning his only other world title back in 2008.
      Hamilton was over half a second quicker than Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, and nearly 1.4 seconds faster than third-placed Felipe Massa of Williams.
      "We had a difficult season last year here, so definitely as a team, as a whole, we're hoping for a better start, for both cars to succeed tomorrow," the 30-year-old said.
      "So we're going to work as hard as we can to make sure we do that and lots of work to be done tonight for the race tomorrow, because that is going to be a huge challenge still and obviously a good fight, hopefully, with Nico."
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      Rosberg, runner-up in last year's championship amid considerable tension between the two drivers, said his teammate "drove like a champ."
      "Lewis was in impressive form today, he did an awesome job and nailed it all the time," said the German, who had an engine cutout in the second session and then ran wide in Q3.
      "For me, the speed was there but I just didn't get it together today. So it wasn't a great day.
      "Lewis was quick but I didn't get my laps together today so I'm not too worried about pace -- I'm not worried about pace at all. On Friday, in the long runs, my pace was very strong so yeah, hopefully it can be the other way tomorrow."
      The veteran Massa said he achieved his goal of being the "best of the rest" as he finished just ahead of Ferrari's new signing Sebastian Vettel and the German's teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
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      "The Ferraris looked strong and were pushing us hard," said the Brazilian, who has failed to finish in seven of 12 starts at Albert Park including last year.
      "It will be a tough battle tomorrow so we need to get the start right and have a good strategy to secure a podium and really start the season on a high note."
      Massa's Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified sixth but will face a fitness test on Sunday morning after experiencing back pain in the first two sessions.
      Four-time world champion Vettel played down Ferrari's big improvement on last season's speed.
      "Let's keep our feet on the ground. So far this weekend, it's gone well and we've had no problems with the car," said the former Red Bull star.
      "It's a shame that third place escaped us, as that would have made us the first team behind Mercedes, but it wasn't by much. We lost third place because my first run wasn't quick enough: I'm not very pleased with myself, because there was still some performance to be found.
      "First and second are a long way in front, but anything can happen during the grand prix. There's not much of a gap between third and fourth on the grid, so I think the podium is a realistic goal."
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      Last year Vettel was upstaged by new teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who qualified second and then finished runner-up in his home race only to be disqualified for a fuel-flow infringement.
      On Sunday he will start in seventh place as Red Bull's Renault-powered car struggled to match the Mercedes engines, while Vettel's replacement Daniil Kvyat was 13th after failing to reach Q3.
      "We suffered a bit this time last year, but there are a few more issues this year which weren't expected," said Ricciardo, who was third in the 2014 championship.
      "I'm really happy with seventh as realistically that's the best we could have done today."
      Red Bull's feeder team Toro Rosso had an encouraging start with its two rookie drivers. Carlos Sainz Jnr., son of the former rally champion, qualified eighth while Dutch 17-year-old Max Verstappen -- whose father Jos raced in F1 -- was 12th.
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      Lotus rounded out the top 10 with Romain Grosjean ninth ahead of teammate Pastor Maldonado.
      Sauber's new pairing of Felipe Nasri and Marcus Ericsson qualified 11th and 16th respectively after they were able to take to the track when last season's reserve driver Giedo van der Garde waived his court-won right to line up in Melbourne.
      The Dutchman, who was successful in his legal battle to have an agreement for a race seat upheld, released a statement after Friday's practice sessions saying he would continue to negotiate with Sauber to resolve the situation.
      McLaren, meanwhile, confirmed all the preseason evidence that its new relationship with engine supplier Honda is yet to bear fruit.
      With Marussia having failed to get its hastily-prepared car ready in time, the English team -- which has won 12 drivers' titles and eight constructors' crowns -- will start at the back of the grid.
      Former world champion Jenson Button was 17th and Kevin Magnussen -- filling in for new signing Fernando Alonso, who is recovering from concussion -- was 18th.
      "This level of performance wasn't a surprise for us: we knew from winter testing that the pace wasn't there, so we knew we weren't going to be competitive here," Button said.
      "However, there's a good feeling about the car -- I know we're so far off, but the basic car is there beneath me, and we're adding to our experience and learning with every lap we do.
      "It's going to be a really difficult race for us -- we haven't done a race distance yet, and my longest run is 12 laps -- but we want to do the best we can because there's so much learning to be had."