MELBOURNE: Early season dominance was expected for Mercedes after their seamless winter testing but Formula One fans had hoped at least to see the chasing pack close the gap to the champions.
Those hopes were blown away on a windy Saturday at Albert Park where Lewis Hamilton stormed to a dominant pole position in qualifying for the opening Australian Grand Prix.
The double world champion will be joined again on the front row for Sunday`s race by Nico Rosberg, a sight all-too-familiar from last year when the `Silver Arrows` hogged 18 out of 19 poles and took 16 of 19 wins.
While Hamilton`s lap was nearly six-tenths of a second ahead of a disappointed Rosberg, the one-and-a-half second gap to the third-fastest, Felipe Massa, was truly cavernous.
"It is (a bigger gap than last year)," the Williams driver told reporters.
"For sure, it`s not great to see this difference but we keep working, keep fighting."
Hamilton`s pole was his 39th and Mercedes` 12th in succession. Williams` record of 24 consecutive poles may be in peril.
Victory on Sunday would appear a formality, with perhaps the only suspense reserved for whether Rosberg can provide a genuine challenge.
Hamilton set the early marker during the final phase of qualifying but roared through his last lap to beat the time.
The Briton also started on pole last year but suffered a reliability problem and retired from the race as Rosberg enjoyed a fuss-free run to victory.
"I feel incredibly blessed to have this car," Hamilton said.
"Last year showed that even if I didn’t have a good first race it wasn’t the end of the world."
It wasn`t all smiles at Mercedes with Rosberg, whose championship battle with Hamilton last year turned volatile at times, left deflated by his day.
He took a spin into the grass in the final session of qualifying after complaining of an engine cut-out in the second.
He denied any problem with his car or that he was any less endowed with pace than Hamilton.
"It wasn`t a great day today but of course I`m really thankful to the team for the car they`ve given me. It`s unbelievable," said the German.
"For sure Lewis is quick but I didn`t get my laps together today so I`m not worried about pace at all, to be honest.
"I`ll definitely give it everything and hopefully put on a good show for everyone."