BOOKIES have made Lewis Hamilton favourite for the 2012 FIA Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship after Red Bull were outclassed by McLaren in Australian Grand Prix qualifying.

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2012 Australian Grand Prix facts

* Race distance: 58 laps (307.574km/191.110 miles)

* Start time: 17:00 (local)/06:00 (GMT)

* Circuit length: 5.303km/3.295 miles

* 2011 winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)

* 2011 pole: Sebastian Vettel 1m 23.529s (228.552km/h)

* Lap record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) 1m24.125s (226.933km/h)

The 27-year-old F1 motor racer from Hertfordshire claimed pole position around the Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne this morning (Saturday).

Hamilton’s Vodafone McLaren Mercedes colleague Jenson Button was second quickest in Q3 to complete the team’s first front row lock-out since Hungary 2008.

While there were celebrations in the McLaren garage, there were glum faces in the Red Bull paddock after double world champion Sebastian Vettel could only qualify sixth behind Mark Webber, who will start from the third row in fifth spot.

Things were even worse for Ferrari, with both their drivers, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, failing to reach the top 10 shootout in qualifying.

Following the capitulation of both the Red Bull and the Ferrari cars, William Hill make Stevenage-born Hamilton the 11/10 favourite to win the Australian Grand Prix, with his team-mate Button second in the betting at 11/4.

Vettel has gone from being the 11/8 favourite for the race to 8/1, while Michael Schumacher, fourth on the grid, could get his first podium finish since returning to F1.

The German Mercedes driver is 12/1 for first place and 2/1 for a spot in the top three.

Romain Grosjean qualified third for Lotus ahead of Schumacher.

Hamilton is 8/13 to beat his team-mate, while Button is 6/5 to finish ahead of Lewis.

If Vettel’s drift in the race odds has been alarming, then his drift in the Drivers’ Championship has been more so.

At one point 5/6 before the season had even started, Vettel is now 9/4 second favourite, with Hamilton 2/1 and Button, in from 8/1 to 3/1 third favourite.

“Sebastian Vettel has been so well fancied and that is highlighted by the fact that he was odds on before a wheel had been turned in anger.

“That the Red Bulls were so far off the pace indicates that this season could be the closest yet,” said Hill’s spokesman Joe Crilly.

The poor Australian GP qualifying for Red Bull has also seen them overtaken for the Constructors’ Championship, with McLaren 8/11 and Red Bull 2/1.

Mercedes GP are in third for the first time at 5/1 with Ferrari out to 20/1.

The 2012 Australian GP starts at 6am GMT on Sunday and can be watched live on Sky Sports F1, Sky channel 408.

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