Melbourne, Australia (SportsNetwork.com) - Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton claimed the pole for the Formula One season-opening Australian Grand Prix, while four- time reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull struggled in Saturday's rain-soaked qualifying session.
With the rain intensifying in Q3, Red Bull newcomer Daniel Ricciardo, an Australian, surprisingly held the provisional pole until the closing seconds when Hamilton completed a lap around Melbourne's Albert Park Circuit in 1 minute, 44.231 seconds. His time was just over 0.3 seconds quicker than Ricciardo.
On Friday, Hamilton had trouble in the first practice session, as he stopped on track just after a single lap. He encountered a faulty oil pressure sensor, which caused a precautionary engine shutdown in his Mercedes. But the 2008 F1 world champion bounced back nicely in P2, setting the fastest lap. He was fourth in final practice, held earlier on Saturday.
"It's been an interesting weekend," Hamilton said. "Today, it made it so much harder for everyone with the conditions. I'm really happy for the job the team did. You know these new cars are so much harder to drive in the wet, and it was the first time for me driving in the wet, as I'm sure it was for a lot of people."
Hamilton earned his 32nd career pole in F1, which placed him in a tie with fellow British compatriot Nigel Mansell for sixth on the all-time pole wins list.
"To be in Formula One has always been my dream, but to get as many poles as [Mansell] is an incredible achievement," Hamilton noted. "I owe that to all the great people I've worked with through my career at McLaren-Mercedes and now Mercedes."
Vettel, who concluded the 2013 season by winning the last nine races, failed to make it out of Q2. During the last practice, Vettel complained that the drivability of his Red Bull car was poor. He experienced the same problem during qualifying.
Red Bull showed signs of progress with the reliability of its cars during the practice sessions for the Australian GP compared to recent pre-season tests in Spain and Bahrain.
"I think we have made a big step forward with the car, but of course I'm not happy that we didn't make it to Q3," Vettel said. "I think the car is quick, but we struggled with drivability, which in these conditions, made it even worse."
Vettel is attempting to surpass Alberto Ascari for most consecutive F1 grand prix victories with 10. Ascari won nine races in a row from the tail end of the 1952 season through the early part of 1953.
"It's going to be a long race [Sunday], and reliability will be the most important thing to make it to the flag, but I think there will be lots of opportunities for us," Vettel added.
Vettel's new teammate, Ricciardo, delighted his home crowd with a second-place finish in qualifying. Ricciardo took over Mark Webber's seat at Red Bull following Webber's retirement at the end of last season.
"It was exciting, and definitely the weather added to the mix," Ricciardo said. "It was nice to be always up there. The engineer was on the radio, saying, 'Pace is good, P1, P2, P3.' I was always in that battle for the pole position. So definitely a really nice qualifying session with the team."
Hamilton's teammate, Nico Rosberg, briefly held the provisional pole in Q3 until Ricciardo and Hamilton topped his lap time. Rosberg will start third.
"I'm pleased with that," Rosberg said. "Could have been better, but third is OK. I know we have a quick race car and from there a good race is possible."
Rookie Kevin Magnussen from McLaren qualified fourth, while Ferrari's Fernando Alonso took the fifth spot. Jean-Eric Vergne from Toro Rosso and Force India's Nico Hulkenberg were sixth and seventh, respectively. Vergne's teammate, Daniil Kvyat, also a rookie this year, placed eighth, while the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas completed the top-10. Massa is making his debut with Williams after spending the past eight seasons with Ferrari.
McLaren's Jenson Button, a three-time winner of the Australian GP, qualified 11th, while Kimi Raikkonen, the defending race winner, placed 12th. Raikkonen is back with Ferrari this year.