Formula One

 
        === Hamilton wins Australian GP pole, Vettel qualifies 13th ===
 
 Melbourne,  Australia  (SportsNetwork.com) -  Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton claimed
 the pole for the Formula One season-opening Australian Grand Prix, while four-
 time  reigning world  champion Sebastian  Vettel  from Red  Bull struggled  in
 Saturday's rain-soaked qualifying session.
 
 With  the rain  intensifying in  Q3, Red  Bull newcomer  Daniel Ricciardo,  an
 Australian,  surprisingly held  the provisional pole until the closing seconds
 when  Hamilton  completed a  lap around  Melbourne's Albert  Park Circuit in 1
 minute,  44.231 seconds.  His  time was  just over  0.3  seconds quicker  than
 Ricciardo.
 
 On  Friday, Hamilton  had trouble in the first practice session, as he stopped
 on track just after a single lap. He encountered a faulty oil pressure sensor,
 which  caused a precautionary engine shutdown in his Mercedes. But the 2008 F1
 world  champion  bounced back  nicely in  P2, setting the  fastest lap. He was
 fourth in final practice, held earlier on Saturday.
 
 "It's  been an interesting weekend," Hamilton said. "Today, it made it so much
 harder for everyone with the conditions. I'm really happy for the job the team
 did.  You know  these new cars are so  much harder to drive in the wet, and it
 was  the first time for me driving in the wet, as I'm sure it was for a lot of
 people."
 
 Hamilton  earned  his 32nd career pole  in F1, which  placed him in a tie with
 fellow  British  compatriot Nigel Mansell for  sixth on the all-time pole wins
 list.
 
 "To  be in  Formula One has always been  my dream, but to get as many poles as
 [Mansell]  is  an incredible achievement," Hamilton  noted. "I owe that to all
 the  great  people I've worked with  through my career at McLaren-Mercedes and
 now Mercedes."
 
 Vettel,  who concluded  the 2013 season by winning the last nine races, failed
 to  make  it out of  Q2. During the last  practice, Vettel complained that the
 drivability  of  his Red  Bull car  was poor. He  experienced the same problem
 during qualifying.
 
 Red  Bull showed signs of progress with the reliability of its cars during the
 practice sessions for the Australian GP compared to recent pre-season tests in
 Spain and Bahrain.
 
 "I  think we have  made a big step forward with the car, but of course I'm not
 happy  that we didn't  make it to Q3," Vettel said. "I think the car is quick,
 but  we  struggled with drivability,  which in  these conditions, made it even
 worse."
 
 Vettel  is attempting  to surpass Alberto Ascari for most consecutive F1 grand
 prix  victories with  10. Ascari won nine races  in a row from the tail end of
 the 1952 season through the early part of 1953.
 
 "It's  going  to be  a long  race [Sunday],  and reliability  will be the most
 important  thing  to make it  to the flag,  but I think  there will be lots of
 opportunities for us," Vettel added.
 
 Vettel's new teammate, Ricciardo, delighted his home crowd with a second-place
 finish  in qualifying.  Ricciardo took  over Mark  Webber's seat  at Red  Bull
 following Webber's retirement at the end of last season.
 
 "It  was  exciting, and  definitely the  weather added  to the mix," Ricciardo
 said.  "It  was nice  to be  always up there.  The engineer  was on the radio,
 saying,  'Pace is good,  P1, P2, P3.' I was always in that battle for the pole
 position. So definitely a really nice qualifying session with the team."
 
 Hamilton's  teammate,  Nico Rosberg,  briefly held the  provisional pole in Q3
 until Ricciardo and Hamilton topped his lap time. Rosberg will start third.
 
 "I'm  pleased with  that," Rosberg said. "Could have been better, but third is
 OK. I know we have a quick race car and from there a good race is possible."
 
 Rookie Kevin Magnussen from McLaren qualified fourth, while Ferrari's Fernando
 Alonso took the fifth spot. Jean-Eric Vergne from Toro Rosso and Force India's
 Nico  Hulkenberg  were sixth  and  seventh,  respectively. Vergne's  teammate,
 Daniil  Kvyat, also  a rookie this year, placed eighth, while the Williams duo
 of  Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas completed the top-10. Massa is making his
 debut with Williams after spending the past eight seasons with Ferrari.
 
 McLaren's  Jenson Button,  a three-time winner of the Australian GP, qualified
 11th,  while Kimi Raikkonen, the defending race winner, placed 12th. Raikkonen
 is back with Ferrari this year.
 
 03/15 07:52:02 ET

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