Lewis Hamilton takes pole position for Australian Grand Prix

Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has claimed pole position for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. It was his fifth straight pole and seventh in Melbourne.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton dominated the last lap at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne on Saturday to grab pole position for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix.

The Briton lapped the circuit in 1 minute and 21.164 seconds, which was 0.664 seconds clear of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel finished third.

By taking pole position on Saturday, Hamilton extended his record to 73 poles overall.

Hamilton's Saturday's performance showed the world champion would be the favorite to win this year's Australian Grand Prix.

Read more: Formula One: Five changes for the 2018 season

"I'm so happy with that lap. It was such a nice lap. I'm always striving for perfection and that was as close as I could get," Hamilton said, adding that it was "surprising was to see how quick the Ferraris were." The British driver insisted they should not be taken for granted.

Formula One: The cars and drivers for the 2018 season

Mercedes

The new Mercedes looks much as it did last year, the only big change is the addition of the "halo" that manufacturers have been forced to fit to the cockpit to better protect the driver's head. It's not popular with driver Lewis Hamilton (right) nor team boss Toto Wolff (second from right), who has said he'd like to take a chainsaw to it. Valtteri Bottas (left) is Mercedes' No. 2 driver.

Formula One: The cars and drivers for the 2018 season

Ferrari

Four-time drivers' champion Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikonnen don't seem nearly as bothered by the halo as their Mercedes' rivals. They and their Ferrari team are hoping that the new SF71H is the machine to help them bring the drivers' title back to Maranello for the first time since 2007 — when Raikkonen won it. Ferrari last won the constructors' title in 2008.

Formula One: The cars and drivers for the 2018 season

Red Bull

Although early test runs aren't the be all and end all, Red Bull's new car looks to be pretty fast. Daniel Ricciardo drove the RB14 to the best time on the first day of testing in Barcelona. Red Bull are hoping their new car can help the Australian and his Dutch teammate, Max Verstappen, close the gap on Mercedes in 2018. Verstappen will just be hoping that it is more reliable than in 2017.

Formula One: The cars and drivers for the 2018 season

Williams

The FW41 is the first Williams car designed under the guidance of their new technical director, Paddy Lowe. The British-based team have also recruited former Ferrari chief aerodynamicist Dirk de Beer. After former driver Felipe Massa retired from F1 at the end of last season, Williams have turned over their cockpits to 19-year-old Canadian Lance Stroll and Russia's Sergey Sirotkin, 22.

Formula One: The cars and drivers for the 2018 season

McLaren

McLaren are going with the same drivers but a new engine this season. Fernando Alonso will be particularly pleased with the new Renault-powered MCL33, having struggled with unreliable Honda engines for the past three seasons. The Spaniard gave the new car the thumbs up after early testing sessions. Like last year, Belgium's Stoffel Vandoorne (left) will be in the other driver's seat.

Formula One: The cars and drivers for the 2018 season

Renault

The color scheme of Renault's new car is something of a throwback. The RS18's canary yellow on black harkens back to the way their cars looked in the 1970s and 80s. Germany's Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. of Spain, who signed on with the team last fall, will be in the drivers' seats. The French carmaker is hoping to move up from last year's sixth-place finish in the constructors' standings.

Formula One: The cars and drivers for the 2018 season

Force India

The Force India car is stil pink, but the team is planning to change its name in time for the Australian Grand Prix. To what, they haven't said. French driver Esteban Ocon (third from left) and Mexico's Sergio Perez (second from right) remain. Force India isn't happy about the halo either. They say it cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars to redesign the chassis just to accommodate the halo.

Formula One: The cars and drivers for the 2018 season

Sauber

Sauber enter the new F1 season knowing they can't do any worse than they did in 2017, when they finished dead last in the constructors' standings. Alfa Romeo is on board as a new main sponsor and the 2018 Ferrari engine also promises better performance than a year ago. Their hopes are pegged on Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson, while F2 champion Charles Leclerc of France takes the No. 2 cockpit.

Formula One: The cars and drivers for the 2018 season

Toro Rosso

Red Bull's No. 2 team is to be powered by Honda engines in 2018. While with McLaren over the past three seasons, the Hondas were plagued by reliability issues and a performance deficit. In testing through, both Toro Rosso drivers — Frenchman Pierre Gasly (left) and Brendon Hartley (right) — stayed upbeat. Both are relatively inexperienced, with five and four F1 races to their names respectively.

Formula One: The cars and drivers for the 2018 season

Haas F1

The Haas team goes into 2018 looking to improve on it's eighth-place showings in both of its first two seasons on the Formula One circuit. The American-based outfit, which is based in North Carolina, has once again placed its trust in the experienced driving duo of Frenchman Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen of Denmark.

"You would think that with the results we had it would be the norm but it isn't. It's so intense and my heart is racing," he said.

Hamilton's teammate, Valtteri Bottas, suffered a heavy crash in the final shootout. Bottas was unharmed, but the session had to be paused for 10 minutes to clear the debris.

Read more: Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Vettel upbeat

While last year's race winner Vettel regretted that Hamilton "had quite a big gap at the end," he said his lap "was pretty good" as well.

The German said he could still challenge Hamilton to win the Australian Grand Prix.

"It's very close; we saw yesterday on the long runs that the pace is very close," Vettel said.

"It's not the easiest place to overtake, but who knows. We have an opportunity at the start. I'm really happy for the team, it's a good result. Let's get going," Vettel said.

Both Hamilton and Vettel are hoping to clinch their fifth world title in a season with a record 21 grands prix.

Read more: Lewis Hamilton wins Italian Grand Prix to overtake Sebastian Vettel

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Title No. 4

Lewis Hamilton enjoys competing against the odds and going into the 2017 F1 season Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel looked the best bet to pose a credible title challenge. With the German plagued by a series of mechanical failures during the campaign, Hamilton helped himself to his fourth drivers' title in the third-last race of the season.

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Provocateur

Lewis Hamilton is known for pushing both his car and his opponents to their limits. At this year's Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Hamilton came out of Turn 15 particularly slowly, and his German rival, Sebastian Vettel rear-ended him. Vettel then pulled up beside him and rammed his car. Hamilton denied having been at fault.

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Difficult teammate

Hamilton is not always easy to deal with even when he happens to be your teammate. The alpha male didn't take it well when then-Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg competed hard against him - and succeeded in winning the 2016 drivers' championship. The German driver's lack of deference was a constant source of friction between him and F1's biggest ego.

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Fan of Senna

The Briton's favorite driver when he was growing up was the late Ayrton Senna. In Montreal in June, Hamilton captured the 68th pole position of his career, equaling the record of Senna, who died in a crash at Imola in 1994. Senna's family recognized the achievement by presenting Hamilton with one of the late Brazilian driver's helmets.

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Father and son

Like the parents of many professional athletes, Hamilton's father Anthony (above, left) made many sacrifices to make Lewis' development as a driver possible, at times holding down as many as three jobs at once. Anthony was Lewis' manager when he first arrived on the circuit in 2007, but the two ended their business relationship in 2010. The two now have a close father-son relationship.

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Another Hamilton at the wheel

His entire family are a priority for Hamilton - including his younger half-brother Nicolas, who despite suffering from cerebral palsy has also managed to become a professional racecar driver. Lewis almost burst with pride when Nicolas moved up the British Touring Car Championship in 2015.

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Wunderkind

At the age of eight, Hamilton (second from right) enjoyed his first win as a driver racing go-karts. He first came into contact with Formula One in 1996, when Mika Hakkinen (right), who would go on to win two F1 titles, presented the trophies at an an event to honor up-and-coming drivers.

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Mentor at McLaren

Ron Dennis (left) was one of the biggest influences on Hamilton early in his career. The longtime team principal of McLaren was impressed when the then-10-year-old Hamilton one day approached him for his autograph and said he intended to drive for McLaren in the future. Three years later, Dennis brought Hamilton into McLaren's youth program.

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Ladies man

Hamilton is said to have dated a long list of famous women such as actress Kate Hudson, singer Rihanna or professional tennis player Maria Sharapova - as well as numerous models. He remains single and doesn't plan to start a family until his driving career is over. His longest romantic relationship was with the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, Nicole Scherzinger (right).

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Fashion conscious

Hamilton is very mindful of his image and enjoys hanging out with the rich and famous. He is often seen in the front row of fashion shows. Above he is pictured with supermodel Naomi Campbell (let) at a fashion show in Milan. The Briton has said that he has plans to release his own line of clothing in the future.

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Party animal

While some drivers unwind by spending quality time with their loved ones, Hamilton prefers to be where the action is, partying with the rich and famous at the hottest clubs. He also enjoys sharing his escapades with his social media followers (five million on Instagram, four million on Faceboook).

Lewis Hamilton - Four-time F1 champion

Title number four

It was an anti-climatic way for Lewis Hamilton to win an historic fourth F1 world championship, but the smile on his face suggested he didn't care much. A collision with Sebastian Vettel at the start of the Mexican GP left both at the back of the field, but a ninth-placed finish was enough for Hamilton after Vettel finished fourth. Hamilton is now the most successful British F1 driver ever.

shs/tj   (dpa, Reuters, AFP)