Hamilton claims Aussie GP pole position

Laine Clark
AAP

The plan was simple for Lewis Hamilton at Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday - to wipe the smile off Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel's face.

In the end, the four-time world champion achieved so much more.

The Briton sent an ominous warning ahead of Sunday's Formula One season opener by setting a lap record to claim his seventh pole position at Melbourne.

The Mercedes gun clocked a scorching one minute, 21.16 seconds late in qualifying to nab top spot ahead of Ferrari duo Kimi Raikkonen and fellow four-time world champ Vettel.

After finishing more than half a second ahead of 2007 world champ Raikkonen, Hamilton denied his history-making lap was down to raising the engine power late in the session.

Sitting next to Hamilton at the post-qualifying press conference, Vettel said: "So, what were you doing before?"

Hamilton replied: "I was waiting to put a good lap together to wipe the smile off your face."

Hamilton later added: "It really was a joke, dude."

It still added further spice to the Hamilton-Vettel rivalry.

This season marks the first time two four-time world champs go head-to-head in Formula One.

They are racing to equal Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio's five world crowns.

Only Michael Schumacher (seven) has won more.

Vettel didn't seem too amused by Hamilton's "joke".

"What goes around comes around," Vettel said to Hamilton.

"At the end of the day the reason we are here is to have fun."

Australia's Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) was fifth fastest but will start from eighth after copping a controversial three-place grid penalty in Friday's practice.

Not everything went to plan for Mercedes with Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas crashing into the wall on turn two early in the third and final qualifying session prompting a red flag.

Bottas - who was cleared of injury - qualified provisionally in 10th but looks set to drop a further five spots as a penalty for his gearbox being replaced as the Mercedes garage faced a long night.

However, nothing was going to discourage an ecstatic Hamilton.

"You would think that with the results we had these years it would feel the norm but it doesn't," Hamilton said of Mercedes' run which includes four-straight drivers' and constructors' world titles.

"I am always striving for perfection and that was as close as I can get."

To date Hamilton has only converted his string of pole positions at Melbourne into two wins and just one for Mercedes.

However, Hamilton did not seem fazed by the one-two Ferrari challenge ahead of Sunday's 58-lap race with seemingly no protection from teammate Bottas.

"It is always going to be tough having two red cars in your mirror but we are the best prepared we can be - I am excited," he said.

Vettel responded: "Hopefully we can play two against one."

Raikkonen pipped Vettel for second spot by just 0.01 of a second.

Max Verstappen was fourth while Red Bull teammate Ricciardo's controversial sanction promotes Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean to fifth and sixth place with Renault's Nico Hulkenberg seventh.