If this is what the 2012 F1 season is going to be like, we are in for a very exciting championship.
Today in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne the form book of 2011 was overturned as Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber struggled to get on terms with the McLarens in particular.
Lewis Hamilton pulled out a tremendous lap early in the final part of qualifying to issue a ‘catch me if you can’ message to his rivals. Jenson Button did a very good second lap to get to just over a tenth of a second off his time, while F1 returnee Romain Grosjean made a real name for himself by securing the third fastest time.
The Lotus (previously Renault) has always gone well here, if you think back to the podiums in the last two seasons here for Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov. Meanwhile Grosjean’s team mate Kimi Raikkonen struggled in qualifying, dropping out in the first session after a weekend of wrestling with power steering issues.
Mercedes has moved a good step closer to the front of the grid, the new car looking like a challenger for pole up to the final session where Hamilton pulled out something special. Nevertheless Michael Schumacher has a new lease of life and qualified fourth, ahead of team mate Rosberg. Mercedes has been the centre of discussions today with Red Bull and Renault keen to protest the rear wing, but making little headway with the FIA technical people. There are many interpretations of what the Mercedes wing is doing and most of them appear to be wrong, as the FIA’s Charlie Whiting told the teams.
What is interesting about the times today when overlaid with last year’s qualifying times is that whereas McLaren were 6/10ths of a second slower than last year and Lotus 1/10th slower, Red Bull were 2 seconds slower while Mercedes were a tenth faster! This says a lot about the removal of the exhaust blow diffuser which at this stage of the season was a significant advantage to Red Bull and which McLaren mastered quite quickly. It was something Mercedes never really got on top of it.
Red Bull had a balance issue in the car and they are losing a lot of ground on the straights. This will be exacerbated in Malaysia and especially China with its long straights.
Webber did well to outqualify Vettel, especially as he didn’t have KERS, which is worth at least 3/10ths of a second here.
They have work to do, as Webber acknowledged, “We knew there were some quick guys out there – McLaren and Mercedes especially and Roman did well too. Everyone always thinks we have special bits to keep coming back, but this year it’s opened right up. I didn’t have KERS at the end of the session, which affects your rhythm during qualifying – it’s a shame as it’s been faultless all winter.”
Ferrari’s difficult start to the season continued with both cars eliminated from Q2; Alonso spun off while Massa never got on top of the car and was a second slower than Alonso, despite having four more laps after the Spaniard went off. Alonso had set his time early in Q2 on a set of used soft tyres and was fifth at the time, so it’s likely that he would have got into the lower reaches of the top ten, but would probably not have got beyond that.
One of the stars of the day was Pastor Maldonado in the Williams, who qualified 8th and was competitive all through the session. The Venezuelan has always been good on street circuits and he found the way around here quickly, showing that the Williams is a far superior car to last year’s model. Team mate Bruno Senna was 14th.
Meanwhile HRT has been told by the stewards that they will not be allowed to race tomorrow in the Grand Prix, having failed to get within 107% of the fastest Q1 time in qualifying. “The stewards having considered all relevant material decide not to allow both cars to take part in the race in accordance with Article 36.1 FIA Formula 1 Sporting Regulations,” said an FIA statement. It’s the second year in a row that they have arrived at the first race without testing and missed the cut. The HRT cars were involved in several incidents of blocking during Q1 and caused some traffic problems.
AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX, Melbourne, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m24.922s
2. Jenson Button McLaren 1m25.074s + 0.152
3. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m25.302s + 0.380
4. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m25.336s + 0.414
5. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m25.651s + 0.729
6. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m25.668s + 0.746
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.686s + 0.764
8. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m25.908s + 0.986
9. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m26.451s + 1.529
10. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso No time
11. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m26.429s + 0.960
12. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m26.4942 + 1.025
13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m26.590s + 1.121
14. Bruno Senna Williams 1m26.663s + 1.194
15. Paul di Resta Force India 1m27.086s + 1.617
16. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m27.497s + 2.028
17. Sergio Perez Sauber No time
18. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m27.758s + 1.576
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m28.679s + 2.497
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m29.018s + 2.836
21. Timo Glock Marussia 1m30.923s + 4.741
22. Charles Pic Marussia 1m31.670s + 5.488
107% time: 1m32.214s
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m33.495s + 7.313
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m33.643s + 7.461