MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position for Formula One's season-opening Australian Grand Prix in a rainy qualifying session Saturday, while four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel will start the race from 12th after being caught out by the wet conditions.
Vettel was joined by fellow big-name drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button in dropping out of qualifying in the second session as they struggled on the wet surface at the Albert Park street circuit.
While Vettel struck trouble, his new Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo thrived, qualifying second, three tenths of a second behind Hamilton's pole time. Ricciardo narrowly missed becoming the first Australian to take pole in his home race.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg qualified third, ahead of McLaren's impressive debutant Kevin Magnussen, who put in a heady drive in tricky conditions, and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton's pole position took him level on 32 career poles with British compatriot Nigel Mansell.
"Today was so much harder for everyone in these conditions," Hamilton said. "These cars are a lot harder to drive in the wet and the first time for me driving this car in the rain. To be up here is a great showing for the team."
Vettel had complained during the pre-qualifying practice session about the handling of the car, describing it as "horrible." The car's handling seemed to deteriorate even further during qualifying, with Vettel ending up 2.4 seconds off Ricciardo's pace in the Q2 session.
"I struggled with drivability," Vettel said. "We have lost that overnight, so we need to find out why that was."
Raikkonen had lagged behind his Ferrari teammate Alonso through the race weekend as they embark on what should be a keen rivalry, and his qualifying ended when he crashed into a track wall after hitting a wet patch when accelerating away from a bend.
McLaren's Button was caught out by the yellow flags from the Raikkonen incident and qualified 11th.