Lewis Hamilton’s devastating pace on his pole-winning lap during qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix can be attributed to a ‘party mode’ that the team unleashed in Q3 which left everyone in the Melbourne paddock stunned.
The reigning world champion stormed to pole with a record lap of 1:21.164 seconds at Albert Park, with a gap of more than six-tenths of a second to the second placed Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
Afterwards, Hamilton denied Mercedes had triggered a different engine mode for Q3, which has been nicknamed the ‘party mode’ by the team, but he was contradicted by team boss Toto Wolff.
The Mercedes chief put the dramatic pace jump from Hamilton’s first effort in Q3 to his pole-winning second run down to the car being maxed out and brilliant driving, “There is a party mode in the car, we switched the party mode on in Q3.”
“There was no difference from the first run in Q3 to the second run in Q3, he just said that he had a great lap, pulled it all together, carried more speed through the apexes.
“The gap was down to Lewis Hamilton putting in a lap with the grip level that he didn’t seem to be able to extract before. Everything was in the sweet spot, I guess. There wasn’t any difference in modes,” added Wolff.
Earlier in the session, Hamilton was edged out by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, but the Mercedes driver improved his lap time by nearly a full second in Q3.
Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo was among thus stunned by the pace of the number 44 Silver Arrows, “That sucks. It’s frustrating because I think everyone else wants to see them get challenged a bit more, so that was a little bit of a punch in the stomach to everyone.”
“I didn’t expect that much,” Ricciardo added, referring to Hamilton’s improvement in the last session. “I knew they had a bit more, I expected them to be more than two-tenths quicker than us.”
“That was like throwing a pie in everyone’s face. I know that obviously, they’re loving it, they’re in a good position but everyone else is hating it.”
“Hopefully we can catch up, hopefully in the race, they don’t have as much of that because that’s a bit scary, that (engine) mode they’ve got. We’ve got to try and figure it out,” added Ricciardo whose best time was good for fifth, albeit one-second shy of Hamilton, but will start the race in eighth due to a grid penalty.”