Hamilton saved the best for last with his final lap of a gloomy
session after Australian Daniel Ricciardo had stormed to the top of
the timesheets only seconds earlier on his first race weekend for
champions Red Bull.
The 29-year-old Briton's time of one minute 44.231 seconds on a
greasy Albert Park track was just over three-tenths of a second
faster than Ricciardo, who upstaged team mate Vettel to the delight
of the home fans.
Quadruple champion Vettel, winner of the last nine races of 2013,
was only 13th fastest and was frustrated by a crash late in the
final session by Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen which brought out the
yellow flags and forced drivers to ease their pace.
"Today made it so much harder with the conditions, but I'm really
happy with the job the team did," said Hamilton, whose 32nd second
pole equaled Nigel Mansell's British record. "These cars are much
harder driving in the wet."
Mercedes' Nico Rosberg will start third on the grid alongside
McLaren's 21-year-old Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen, who underlined
his talent with a poised drive in trying conditions.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso qualified fifth with Jean-Eric Vergne
sixth fastest for Toro Rosso.
It was the first time Vettel had failed to make the final round of
qualifying since he started 11th on the grid in Belgium in 2012,
before battling through the field to finish the race second.
Vettel will move up to 12th, however, with Williams' Finnish driver
Valtteri Bottas due to drop from 10th place after taking a
five-place penalty for a gearbox change.
"Obviously tricky conditions, for some reason we had more problems
today than we had yesterday," said the 26-year-old German, who
appeared to struggle with handling and survived a brush with a wall
in the first qualifying session.
"The speed is there so we will see what we can do tomorrow. It's a
long race, anything can happen."
With Red Bull still playing catch-up to Mercedes after an abysmal
winter testing plagued by reliability problems with their Renault
power unit, Vettel looks set to be beaten for the first time since
Hamilton won in Hungary last July.
Ricciardo, who has shouldered Australia's hopes since the retirement
of his Red Bull predecessor Mark Webber at the end of last season,
had few illusions about the gap between the teams.
"I think if it was a dry qualifying we were expecting Lewis and Nico
to be on the front row," the 24-year-old said.
"Hopefully the upward trend continues and we can start to hassle
these guys in dry conditions soon."
[to top of second column]
With teams already struggling to master the new turbocharged
hybrid engines, fuel consumption will add an additional layer of
complexity for drivers in Sunday's race, with a new rule limiting
cars to 100 kilograms of petrol.
Vettel will be in esteemed company in the middle of the grid, with
two other champions — McLaren's Jenson Button and Raikkonen — also
failing to get into the final group of 10.
Briton Button qualified 11th but will start 10th, while Raikkonen,
the 2007 world champion, was 12th fastest on his first Saturday
since returning to Maranello.
The Finn, winner in Melbourne with Lotus last year, crashed into the
wall at turn 14.
Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat also enjoyed a positive qualifying
debut, despite hitting the wall at the end of the final session, to
line up eighth for Toro Rosso with Force India's Nico Hulkenberg
Brazilian Felipe Massa will start ninth on the grid in his first
race since crossing to Williams from Ferrari.
Japan's Kamui Kobayashi, making his comeback after being dropped by
Sauber at the end of 2012, gave lowly Caterham a boost by qualifying
15th — which will become 14th after Bottas drops down.
Lotus's horror week continued as both Frenchman Romain Grosjean and
Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado were among the six knocked out of the
Grosjean locked up and spun off after posting the slowest lap time
in the opening session, while Maldonado was unable even to trouble
the timesheets due to a problem with the power unit and will rely on
the stewards' discretion for a Sunday start.
"We had a lot of problems today and every time we fixed one another
one comes along," said Grosjean. "It's frustrating, but I'm the one
who has the easiest life as I'm not working all night on the car."
Sauber's Mexican driver Esteban Gutierrez, who qualified 19th, also
collected a five-place grid penalty for the race for having a new
(Editing by Alan Baldwin)
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