Lewis Hamilton wins Aussie GP pole

Updated: March 17, 2012, 9:15 AM ET
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Lewis Hamilton led a 1-2 McLaren finish Saturday by winning the pole position for Formula One's season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Hamilton qualified in 1 minute, 24.922 seconds on the Albert Park circuit, one-tenth of a second ahead of teammate Jenson Button. This is the first all-McLaren front row since 2009.

Hamilton has won 20 poles during his career, the 13th driver in F1 history to do so. He is tied with Fernando Alonso and Damon Hill.

"It's a fantastic feeling to be back here, and it's an incredible start to the season," Hamilton said. "It was a tremendous job from the team to get us to this point. We've had a couple of tough years, but we never seem to give up."

Four of the past five winners in Melbourne have started from the pole, boosting Hamilton's hopes for Sunday's race.

Lotus' Romain Grosjean was a surprise third. Mercedes' Michael Schumacher qualified fourth, ahead of the Red Bull pair of Mark Webber and world champion Sebastian Vettel.

It was a dismal day for Ferrari, with Alonso spinning into a gravel trap early in the second session and qualifying in 12th place, while Felipe Massa fared even worse, qualifying 16th. Kimi Raikkonen, making a comeback, was 18th for Lotus.

Mercedes' Nico Rosberg qualified seventh, and Williams' Pastor Maldonado was an impressive eighth. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Force India. and Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top 10.

Button said he was "quite surprised" by the gap of about two-thirds of a second to the Red Bulls after Vettel dominated last season.

"Red Bull are always competitive, we should never forget that," Button said. "But we are going to enjoy this and hope we have a great race."

Grosjean was competing for the first time at the Albert Park circuit. The Frenchman was expected to spend the season in the shadow of Raikkonen, but the 2011 GP2 champion showed he had put behind him his troubled time in F1 in 2009.

"A few people believed in me in the toughest times and today I am back almost at the top," Grosjean said.

The HRTs failed to qualify for Sunday, with neither car coming within the required 7 percent of the best time in the first qualifying session.

Off the track, Mercedes' wing system was questioned. Lotus wants a definitive ruling from the sport's governing body. The Mercedes system channels air from the rear wing to the front wing to increase downforce.


Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press