Local hope Daniel Ricciardo eats Lewis Hamilton's dust in grand prix qualifying

Local hope Daniel Ricciardo faces an uphill battle in Sunday's Formula One Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park after a predictably poor performance in qualifying.

As he forecast in the lead-up to the 20th anniversary Melbourne GP, Ricciardo wasn't able to challenge the front-running Mercedes and Ferraris in the shoot-out for pole position.

The popular 26-year-old from Perth will start eighth on the starting grid in his Red Bull after becoming the first driver eliminated in the final phase of the contentious three-part knock-out qualifying procedure.

Last year's Melbourne GP winner and defending F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in the deciding 14-minute battle to clinch pole position ahead of his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

Four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel headed Ferrari's improving bid to unseat Mercedes, which has dominated F1 for the past two years, by setting the third quickest lap time, just over eight tenths of a second off Hamilton's pole-winning pace.

Vettel's teammate Kimi Raikkonen reinforced Ferrari's threat in race conditions for the 58-lap, 307km contest on the 5.3km Albert Park street circuit by securing fourth place on the grid.


Ricciardo was 1.752 seconds off Hamilton's lap speed - a huge margin in F1, where differences are measured in hundredths and even thousandths of a second.

The controversial new elimination-format qualifying procedure to decide the order on the starting grid didn't result in any big upsets, as F1 officials had hoped, but it did add a frisson of excitement in the early stages.

But the anticipation deflated in the final phase, with the planned shoot-out between the last two survivors to decide pole position falling flat when the final four parked up in the pits with four minutes remaining.

They all conceded by then that Hamilton was uncatchable, robbing the estimated crowd of 70,300 who braved the cold and blustery conditions of the promised last-minute fight for pole position.

It was a damp squib that will require revision or reversal by F1 rule-makers to restore the spectacle of qualifying, which most observers didn't think needed changing.

Daily attendances at Albert Park so far have been down on last year, mainly due to the rainy and cool weather on Friday and Saturday, according to race officials.

The estimated crowd for the first three days of the Australian GP festival was 182,100, compared with 195,600 for the same period last year.

Organisers are hoping the forecast improved conditions on Sunday will attract a bumper crowd to watch Ricciardo attempt to defy the form book in his home nation event.

The upbeat West Australian expects his Red Bull racer to be more competitive in race conditions, but without rain to equalise conditions or unforeseen eliminations among the front-runners, from eighth on the grid his hopes of making the podium, much less win, are almost non-existent.

The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a mainly sunny day on Sunday with a top of 23 degrees, cooling slightly as the 22 F1 drivers race towards early evening, bothered by the setting sun in the closing stages.

As he promised during his popular appearance at the after-race podium presentation last year, Arnold Schwarzenegger is "baaack" for Sunday's late-afternoon race.

Schwarzenegger was the celebrity interviewer on the podium and his exchange with 2015 Melbourne GP winner Lewis Hamilton became an internet sensation. "It's Arnold Schwarzenegger, man!" exclaimed a starstruck Hamilton, before quipping: "I thought you were taller."

The star of The Terminator movies and a host of other action hero films immediately responded: "I'm not wearing my high heels."

After finishing his interviews with the top three placegetters, Schwarzenegger delivered one of his catchphrases: "I'll be baaack!"

And he is. The former governor of California, who is in Melbourne for the 2016 version of the Arnold Classic Australia, will be attending at least part of the race at the Albert Park circuit.

He will conduct media calls outside and inside the lakeside track before the scheduled 4pm AEDT start time, which he'll watch from a trackside VIP enclosure. At this stage, Schwarznegger is due to leave at 4.30pm, although race officials are hoping to talk him into staying until the end and, subject to the approval of F1 czar Bernie Ecclestone in London, reprise his popular post-race podium interviews.