Hamilton starts season in pole position

Lewis Hamilton got an early psychological edge over Kimmi Raikkonen, winning pole position for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix while the world champion will start near the back of the grid.

McLaren’s Hamilton had the fastest times in the second and third runs of the three-phase qualifying session on the eve of Sunday’s race around the 5,303km Albert Park circuit.

The British driver finished third in his Formula One debut at Melbourne’s Albert Park last year and led the standings for most of the season until Raikkonen won the last race at Brazil and took the championship by one point.

Raikkonen’s Ferrari pulled up at the start of the pit lane and had to be pushed back to the garage by crew. He sat in the car preparing for the second run, after posting the fifth-fastest time in the first, but was not allowed to continue.

Hamilton’s one minute, 25,187 seconds in the second run and 1:26,714 in the third allowed him to start on the front of the grid.

BMW Sauber driver Robert Kubica challenged for pole but a slight oversteer late in his last run cost him fractions of a second and he finished in 1:26,869 to earn second position on the grid.

Hamilton’s McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen will start at number three, beside Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. Nick Heidfeld will start at number five in the other BMW Sauber, on the same line as Toyota’s Jarno Trulli.

Williams’s Nico Rosberg, Red Bull’s David Coulthard, Toyota’s Timo Glock and Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel fill out the top 10.

Two-time world drivers’ champion Fernando Alonso, back at Renault after a season at McLaren, failed to reach the third stage of qualifying and had the 12th-fastest time, meaning he will start between Honda teammates Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button.

Australia’s Mark Webber, who had been fifth, second and sixth quickest in the first three practice sessions, spun his Red Bull into the gravel at turn six in the second run, bringing out the red flag. He will start at 15th, one place in front of Raikkonen.

Raikkonen, who won the 2007 Australian GP from pole position in his first race for Ferrari, had the fastest time in Friday’s two practice sessions but said he was unhappy with the set-up.

He’ll be less excited after qualifying, having to start at 16th in the first race for seven years where cars are not fitting with the traction-control driving aid, which could cause trouble at the start.

Adrian Sutil spun out on turn 12 in the first run and was among the six drivers who did not progress to the second round of qualifying.

His Force India teammate Giancarlo Fisichella, the 2005 Australian GP champion, also failed to advance along with four-time Champ Car series champion Sebastien Bourdais in the Toro Rosso, Super Aguri pair Nakajima Sato and Anthony Davidson and Renault number two Nelson Piquet Jnr, son of three-time drivers’ champion Nelson Piquet. — Sapa-AP

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