Mercedes lives up to ‘favorites’ tag

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Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have affirmed themselves as hot favorites ahead of Sunday's Australian Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix after they blitzed the field in qualifying to secure pole and second heading into the first race of the season.

After what could only be described as a farcical start to the new qualifying format, the two Mercedes cars flexed their muscle securing the front row of the grid, confirming pre-season predictions the team would be the one to beat throughout 2016.

Hamilton, during the third round of qualifying, even smashed the lap record at Melbourne (posting a 1:23.837), something which has sent a clear message to the rest of the field.

The 20 other drivers will have a tough time chasing both Hamilton and Rosberg, though encouraging signs from Scuderia Ferrari will have it optimistic of perhaps staging an upset during the first Grand Prix of the season.

Both Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen reported extremely quick cars during testing in Barcelona, and it will be evident on Sunday when they line up in 3rd and 4th on the grid.

However, it's Toro Rosso drivers Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz who could surprise most on Sunday -- the pair will begin the race well in contention for points after shocking the field and qualifying 5th and 7th respectively, not far off the pace of the Mercedes-chasing Ferrari cars.

Meanwhile hometown driver and Red Bull Racing number one Daniel Ricciardo will begin the race from 8th, after earlier in the week downplaying expectations surrounding his car, when he promised to do a 'nudie run' down Albert Park if he managed to upstage the Mercedes and Ferrari teams.

As expected, both he and stablemate Daniil Kvyat will start well off the pace of the race favorites; Kvyat even fell victim to the new qualifying format and was eliminated in the first round, qualifying in 18th.

The format claimed a number of unaware victims early, with Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez both being shunted out while completing a hot lap - seemingly unaware their 90-second elimination period would claim them as victims.

Despite the confusion of the format, the Mercedes teams weren't threatened by it - proving their dominance is likely to continue, with Hamilton and Rosberg still looking streets ahead of their closest rivals.

While Hamilton qualified faster than teammate Rosberg, the second-placed driver still managed a time 0.478 of a second quicker than third-placed Vettel. Hamilton was almost one second quicker than his nearest non-teammate at 0.838 of a second faster than the Ferrari.

Following qualifying, Hamilton talked up his team's chances of continuing its recent dominance, and told the press his car felt "sexy".

"I enjoyed driving the car today and it's set up just right. There were some sexy laps and it felt so good. It's all you can hope for as a driver," Hamilton said on Saturday."

Teammate Rosberg said a Mercedes win in Melbourne was likely if both he and Hamilton could stay on the track on Sunday.

"We seem to be the quickest out there and by a good margin. The risk is that we become complacent, but I hope we'll be able to push through," Rosberg told the press.

Meanwhile third-placed Vettel said the result in qualifying reflected the pre-season expectations, but said on race day, it could be a different story.

"We've made a step forward and I think tomorrow we should be a lot closer," Vettel said, "We expected Mercedes to be stronger in qualifying."

The 2016 Australian F1 Grand Prix begins on Sunday evening (Australian time) in Melbourne.

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