Red Bull’s Vettel takes pole for Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - World champion Sebastian Vettel will start from pole Sunday in Formula One’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix after a dominant performance in qualifying Saturday.

The Red Bull driver had a time of 1 minute, 23.529 seconds, more than three-quarters of a second quicker than nearest rival Lewis Hamilton of McLaren.

“It’s a good position to be in. It’s the best position, pole position, so I’m very happy with that,” Vettel said. “But we need to keep our feet on the ground and see how we get on tomorrow.”

Red Bull’s Mark Webber will start third in front of his home crowd, with Jenson Button of McLaren fourth as he attempts to win the race for a third straight year.

Hamilton’s performance to split the Red Bull cars was an impressive one, and McLaren reaped the reward for making some bold changes to the car after trouble offseason testing.

“It was a very brave and tough decision for us to pull back from what we’d been developing over the winter test,” said Hamilton, the 2008 series champion. “And after the last test to come back and decide we were going to go in another direction. Since I’ve been here, we’ve never ever done that before.”

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso qualified fifth and Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher was 11th.

The Red Bull and McLaren cars were consistently fastest after the first Q1 session, switching between the firmer “prime” tires and the “options” to try and feel their way to faster lap combinations.

There may be more surprises for race day after the Red Bull drivers revealed they didn’t use the added thrust of their KERS systems at all in qualifying. Neither Vettel or Webber would elaborate on the reason behind the decision.

Schumacher said a failure with his KERS partly explained his disappointing time.

“Clearly that was not an ideal start to the season, and I cannot deny that I am disappointed,” he said. “It’s not that the KERS only worked intermittently, or that I could probably have made it to Q3, but it is because our performance did not turn out as we expected.”

Troubled constructor Hispania became the first team to miss out on the race under the reintroduced 107 percent rule, after both its drivers failed post a time under the cut off mark set at seven percent higher than the fastest time in Q1. With the cut-off time set at 1:31.266, Vitantonio Liuzzi could manage only 1:32.978 and Narain Karthikeyan had 1:34.293. Despite a request from the team pleading exceptional circumstances for the poor times, race stewards decided to enforce the rule and exclude the team from the race.

Renault’s Nick Heidfeld, ninth-fastest in final practice earlier in the day, also was eliminated in Q1 and will start from a disappointing 18th.

In Q2, Renault’s Rubens Barrichello ruined his chances of qualifying in the top 10 when he touched the grass coming into the third turn, losing control and spinning into the gravel.

Adrian Sutil of Force India also was eliminated, but had a lucky escape when he spun his car 360 degrees coming out of the final turn and narrowly missed a wall before regaining control and continuing his lap.

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