MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A triumphant Lewis Hamilton was unable to contain his glee after taking a record seventh pole at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on Saturday, saying his brilliant lap at Albert Park was designed to ‘wipe the smile’ off Sebastian Vettel’s face.
The Mercedes champion’s intense and spite-tinged rivalry with Ferrari’s Vettel added spice to the championship last year and if Saturday is anything to go by, relations between the four-times champions could get rocky again this year.
Hamilton’s pole lap, an Albert Park record of one minute, 21.164 seconds, was over six-tenths clear of Ferrari’s second-placed Kimi Raikkonen.
It was also a dramatic improvement on the Briton’s fastest effort in the second session of qualifying, prompting a question on whether his Mercedes W09 had a ‘party mode’ for Q3.
“I used the same the mode from Q2 through to the end of Q3,” Hamilton said at the post-qualifying news conference while sitting next to Vettel. “There was no extra button, no extra mode.”
Vettel, third in qualifying and shunted onto the second row for Sunday’s race, asked him: “What were you doing before then?”
Hamilton replied: “I was waiting to put a good lap. Wipe the smile off your face.”
Like the pole lap, the quip proved too fast for German Vettel, who was only made aware of it when asked how he would respond on Sunday.
“I think what goes around comes around,” Vettel said with a smile that appeared a little forced.
“At the end of the day, that’s why we’re here, we want to have fun. If that’s what he enjoys, obviously on Saturdays he’s doing pretty well.”
Hamilton moved to defuse the rising tension by telling Vettel he was joking.
“I know but... He’s free to have a party tonight and then hopefully Kimi and myself will have a party tomorrow,” Vettel countered.
Runner-up last year, Hamilton also claimed pole in Melbourne for that race but Vettel had the last laugh when he won with a superior strategy.
“I think we generally learn from mistakes or scenarios like that so I’m hoping that we’re better prepared for tomorrow and ultimately I guess, it’s also how we manage the tyres at the start of the race,” Hamilton said.
Mercedes’ cheer at their seemingly huge advantage in pace was tempered by Valtteri Bottas’ crash at the start of Q3, the Finn losing control at turn two and slamming into a barrier, with the impact leaving his car in pieces.
Bottas will not start from any closer than 15th on the grid after needing a gearbox change and it will be a long night in the garage for the team’s mechanics.
“I think I was just pushing a bit too hard,” said Bottas, who blamed a damp kerb on a drying track that was hit by morning showers.
“It looked like it was damaged pretty badly, so I really hope we can fix it for the race.”
Editing by John O'Brien