McLaren Hold The Top Cards For Australian GP

12 months ago, Sebastian Vettel took his first of many pole positions for the season. Fast forward to the present and it is the 2008 and 2009 champions who hold the first two grid positions for the Australian GP.

McLaren were strong through all three qualifying sessions but the same could not be said for Red Bull. The lap which the crowds held their breath for never came, leaving Webber and Vettel in 5th and 6th respectively, further back than they have been for some time.

Hamilton’s lap was the man of Grenadian-descent at his best. Smoothly on the throttle and all times with the car under his control, he was delighted to be on top:

“It is fantastic to start the season this way. I am massively proud of team working hard as they always do, to see this result is great. Tomorrow is the most important day and we have a lot to look forward to. A tremendous job by the team to get us to this point. They had a tough couple of years but never gave up. It is a fantastic feeling.”

Hamilton and Button start on row one for the first time as team-mates

Jenson Button agreed with some surprise as he lined up in 2nd:

“It means so much. For the last two years we’ve been fighting for this: to get a Red Bull off the front row and two McLarens [on it]. We knew that the Lotus, the Mercedes and the Red Bull would be competitive but we didn’t think we would be on the front row with three tenths in hand, so it is a very special day for us as a team.”

The Frenchman is rightly pleased

Best performer of the session went to Lotus-Renault’s Romain Grosjean, popping up in third position. Dropped by the team in 2009, he has been brought back stronger and was consistently in the top ten throughout qualifying, though no one would have predicted a time good enough for third spot:

“It is fantastic for everybody [in the team],”said Grosjean, “It is really nice to be back in F1 and I’m enjoying it. Today I am very happy to be here, proud to be here. They gave me the toughest time. I am proud to be part of Lotus team and the atmosphere and experience can be very good, we have been working well during winter to do our best to make best of everything we can.”

Raikkonen could have done better but for a costly mistake

In contrast to the surprising speed was the also-surprising lack of it from his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. Much had been said about The Iceman in the build-up to his come-back but the Finn fell out of qualifying in Q1 and will start the race from 18th place. The man himself could have been on for a quicker lap and kept himself in the hunt, but made a mistake at the Turn 12/13 chicane:

“Today didn’t go quite as planned,” said the Finn. “There’s no issue with the car; I made a mistake and there was a communication issue so the timing wasn’t right to get another lap. It cost us a good qualifying position but that’s how it goes sometimes. We should have easily been in Q2. It’s not the best start but we’ll try to put it right in the race. There’s plenty of speed in the car.”

Vettel didn't have his finger out on this particular Saturday

The Red Bulls appear damaged from the banning of the exhaust-blown diffuser, last year’s must-have gizmo which gave them and others so much grip and aided their domination of qualifying. It was evident that this was having on effect on quite a few drivers, with many going off the track at times. Sebastian Vettel did not produce the lap which had been expected of him but said that regardless of what he did, he would not have been on pole:

“I think what we saw today was not a surprise,” he added. “The laptimes were close. I could have been one or two places higher, but that’s how it goes. I made a mistake at the beginning and lost some time, so that was down to me.”

Alonso's session ended early - and in a cloud

One of the biggest eye-openers will have been the confirmation of Ferrari in peril. Felipe Massa’s car appeared very uncomfortable to drive and awkward, going wide on many occasions. The Brazilian got through to Q3 on all 19 times last season, but failed to at the first time of asking in 2012. Fernando Alonso fared little better and spun off the track, beaching the car in the gravel. This ended Ferrari’s involvement in qualifying as both men went out in Q2, Alonso making it to 12th.

Both drivers said afterwards that much work is needed to improve and that the car was even worse then they expected:

“If we improve the car quickly we can target important things like the championship, etc. If we don’t improve the car quickly then we won’t be able to do it. It was difficult right from the start of FP3: the balance of the car was never what I wanted and I never managed to get a clean lap. I was always lacking grip, both on the mediums and the softs and I suffered with oversteer on entry and understeer on exit.

“I don’t know why, but the car seemed to be worse than in winter testing, maybe down to the characteristics of this circuit.”

Rosberg. starting 7th was out-qualified by Schumacher, starting in 4th

Mercedes showed to be the team that have improved the most, both drivers leading a 1-2 in Q2 and going well in Q1. Michael Schumacher stated that he had confidence in the car ever since he first drove it as the German starts from fourth position on the grid – his best qualifying performance since his come-back in 2010:

“Since day one when I went in this car, it was very obvious it was much more to my liking,” Schumacher said. “If you look at the steering, the manoeuvres you have to do to do corners are probably half what I had to do in last year’s car. “I’m not dreaming too much of winning this race. We are fourth but we have strong guys in front of us,” he said.

“Hopefully we’ll have a chance to jump on the podium – that’s not completely unrealistic; to win from where we are, it’s too early to really talk about that. We’ll wait and see.”

There's an early bath in store for HRT

It was always a possibility that they would not set a time within 107% of Q1’s quickest and despite requesting permission from the race stewards to be allowed in the race, HRT were denied the chance to do so, leaving them to pack up for the weekend. Driver Narain Karthikeyan said that issues with DRS and power steering meant they were unlikely to qualify, with final times being over one second down on the required cut-off point:

“I didn’t have the DRS working and had issues with the power steering, so we could have easily been in. The DRS alone is worth about nine tenths, and the power steering is virtually non-existent, it’s almost impossible to drive.”

While he was under no illusion that it will be tough work in next weekend’s Malaysian GP, he thinks that all will be ok by round three in China:

I don’t see it as a long-term problem but I won’t be surprised if Malaysia is the same situation. Back to backs in a situation like this is almost impossible; we have a few small remedies but to work on the hydraulics is a humungous job. It won’t happen overnight. By China we should be okay, relatively speaking.”

Australian GP Grid

Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.922s
2. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m25.074s + 0.152
3. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m25.302s + 0.380
4. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m25.336s + 0.414
5. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m25.651s + 0.729
6. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m25.668s + 0.746
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.686s + 0.764
8. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m25.908s + 0.986
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m26.451s + 1.529
10. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari No time
11. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m26.429s + 0.960
12. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m26.4942 + 1.025
13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.590s + 1.121
14. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m26.663s + 1.194
15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m27.086s + 1.617
16. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m27.497s + 2.028
17. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari No time
18. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m27.758s + 1.576
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m28.679s + 2.497
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m29.018s + 2.836
21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m30.923s + 4.741
22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m31.670s + 5.488

Did Not Qualify

23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m33.495s + 7.313
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m33.643s + 7.461

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