Polesitter Lewis Hamilton says qualy conditions 'toughest I've ever had to drive in'
Merc driver just fends off Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Rosberg for pole
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 15/03/14 9:18am
Lewis Hamilton was delighted to emerge with pole position from an "extremely difficult" rain-hit Australian GP but is hoping for a dry race as he attempts to ignite his title challenge with a season-opening victory.
With the Albert Park circuit hit by increasing rain showers from the end of Q1 onwards, Hamilton eventually won a thrilling three-way pole duel with surprise contender Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg to claim the 32nd pole of his career, the same number as British F1 legend Nigel Mansell.
Hamilton, who needed a last-gasp lap of 1:44.231 to deny local favourite Ricciardo and in turn the ever-passionate Melbourne crowd their first home polesitter, missed the sole day of wet-tyre testing during pre-season and admitting his first experience of driving a 2014 car in the rain was very challenging.
"It's been an interesting weekend and today made it so much harder for everyone with the conditions, but I'm really happy with what the team did," the 2008 World Champion said.
"These new cars are a lot harder to drive in the wet and it was the first time for me driving in the wet, so a serious task and challenge today.
"But for both me and Nico [in third] to be up here is a real great showing for the team and it's obviously great to see Ricciardo up here for his first grand prix with Red Bull."
Pole number 32 of Lewis's career
Describing the conditions to Sky Sports F1 as the "toughest I've ever had to drive in the wet", Hamilton said the decision to stay with the full wet tyres throughout Q3 had been right on a knife-edge, but said Mercedes opted against gambling on intermediates.
"It was on the limit. It was very difficult to know what the turnover point is: would you take a risk or not? So we decided not to," Hamilton recalled.
"Daniel did a really good job on the inters so it was obviously a really close call between the two. But the conditions made it extremely difficult. There's so much more power so you're short-shifting all the way down into fifth, sixth, seventh [gear] before you can actually get the full throttle. Great fun otherwise.
The potential of more unpredictable weather hangs over race day but Hamilton, whose Mercedes W05 appears to hold as much as a second pace advantage over the field in the dry, added: "I hope the weather's better for tomorrow - mostly for the fans - and also for us."
The race, exclusively live on Sky Sports F1, starts at 6am on Sunday morning.