Hamilton on pole in Melbourne
Last year’s championship runner-up set the pace in two of the three qualifying sessions but faced a stern challenge in the climactic Q3 from BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica.
The Pole will line up alongside Hamilton on the front row and but for a mistake on his fastest lap might well have snatched pole from his former Formula 3 teammate.
It was a disastrous session for reigning champion Kimi Raikkonen though, as his Ferrari suffered a fuel pump failure in Q1 and crawled to a standstill in the pit approach.
He was then barred from participating in the rest of qualifying as the crew had to push him back to the garage, so the Finn will start 16th.
Hamilton's new team-mate Heikki Kovalainen took third for his McLaren debut, ahead of Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Kubica's teammate Nick Heidfeld.
Toyota team manager Richard Cregan was not surprised when BMW Sauber leapt into the front running action during qualifying at Albert Park.
The German team had not featured in any of the pre-qualifying practicing at the 2008 season opener, amid rumors that BMW chiefs had also sandbagged and concealed their true single lap pace in winter testing.
"Well, we knew they would be up there, because we think they focused on the long run testing," Cregan said in the Melbourne paddock.
He thinks Robert Kubica, second on the grid compared with teammate Nick Heidfeld's fifth, would even have beaten Lewis Hamilton to pole if not for an off-track moment in the high speed chicane.
"I think he was heading for (pole) and he lost it there," Cregan agreed.
The first 20 minutes produced few shocks – until World Champion Raikkonen, comfortably through to Q2, was seen crawling back to pit lane and eventually having to have his Ferrari pushed over the line with no fuel pressure.
Because he stopped on track and not in the pits he was eliminated from the rest of the session.
The disaster Australian fans had been hoping to avoid arrived six minutes into the second 15-minute phase of qualifying when Mark Webber – so strong over the first two days here – beached the Red Bull-Renault in the gravel trap on the outside of Turn 6.
“There was a failure of some kind on the front right,” said a disappointed Webber, “and it pitched us off. But that’s the game we’re in. Now we start from 17th (actually he’s 15th) and finish nowhere.”
The other big name to drop out in phase two was double World Champion Fernando Alonso, whose Renault was 12th-fastest, just behind the improving Honda of Rubens Barrichello.
First man to attack in the final 10-minute phase was Sebastian Vettel, but the German youngster was unable to put in a flying lap as he pulled into pit lane and parked the Toro Rosso machine.
While Felipe Massa’s Ferrari and Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren briefly occupied top spot, it all came down to a last-lap blast between Hamilton and Kubica.
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