Hamilton takes pole in Melbourne

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton got his bid for the Formula One world championship off to the perfect start after taking pole position for tomorrow's Australian Grand Prix.

The McLaren driver's time of one minute 26.714 seconds was good enough to edge out Robert Kubica's BMW Sauber by 0.155secs, with team-mate Heikki Kovalainen third.

But defending champion Kimi Raikkonen will start way down the field after his Ferrari came to a halt in the pit lane during Qualifying One, while team-mate Felipe Massa could only manage fourth to complete an underwhelming start for the Italian outfit.

Hamilton hit the front midway through Qualifying Three, setting a time of 1min 27.092secs, with Massa well-placed in second and Kovalainen third, albeit half a second adrift.

As the session expired, Kubica was the first to lay down the gauntlet, recording a lap of 1:26.869 although he lost vital fractions after running wide at turn 12.

And it proved crucial as Hamilton bettered the Pole's mark with a tidy effort to ensure he will start the 58-lap showdown from the best possible position.

But disaster struck for Raikkonen as, after setting a time in Qualifying One, his Ferrari crawled back to the pits before stopping in the pitlane and the Finn was pushed back to the garage, meaning his participation was forced to come to a premature end.

The defending world champion will now start from 16th on the grid.

Kovalainen will line-up behind his McLaren team-mate after his effort of 1:27.079 was good enough for third, just under one one hundredth of a second quicker than Massa, who decided against trying to improve his earlier time after diving into the pits.

Nick Heidfeld starts fifth in the second BMW, while Jarno Trulli piloted his Toyota to an impressive sixth place.

Nico Rosberg claimed seventh for Williams and David Coulthard grabbed an impressive eight for Red Bull.

Timo Glock was ninth in the other Toyota, while Sebastian Vettel ended an impressive 10th for Toro Rosso.

Hamilton also led the way in Qualifying Two, which was briefly halted after Mark Webber, whose Red Bull had looked impressive during free practice, ended up in the gravel at Turn Six after suffering an apparent mechanical problem.

Kubica was second and Kovalainen third but Honda's Jenson Button missed out on a place in Q3 and will start 13th, one place behind Fernando Alonso's Renault, who was also eliminated along with Button's team-mate Barrichello and Kazuki Nakajima in the Williams.

Kovalainen had set the pace in Q1 and Button left it late to make it through but, as expected, Anthony Davidson was eliminated after his Super Aguri finished last.

Debutants Nelsinho Piquet in the Renault and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais also failed to qualify for the next session, as did Takuma Sato in the other Super Aguri and Force India duo of Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil, who spun on his final attempt.

Despite giving himself the ideal start for tomorrow's race, Hamilton admitted there is still room for improvement.

"I could do better," he said.

"Being on pole is a great feeling but you can always do better. Finding gaps is tricky, but I'm happy with the result.

"Q1 was very, very close. I didn't get a good lap but in the last session, I was able to string it out and put the sectors together."

Kubica, meanwhile, hailed his second and team-mate Heidfeld's fifth place on the grid as a "great achievement" for BMW.

"I made a mistake in turn 12 and we took quite a lot of risk but it didn't pay off," he said.

"But it's a great achievement by the team.

Kovalainen was also satisfied with third.

"It was fairly smooth, I was just trying to take things steady, not make any mistakes and push a bit more," he said.