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Hamilton heads McLaren front row at Melbourne as Red Bulls suffer
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Mar 2012   |  1:58 pm GMT  |  249 comments

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

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With the results now in Red Bull have improved from their qualifying position. I’m worried about Hamilton. Why was he slower in the race than Button because he was conclusively beaten in this race. It’s fair to say that after a relatively poor start things did not go his way both in the pit stops, and because of the safety car. I’m just hoping he is not mixing it too much with the L.A. pop/rock scene. One thing I’ve noticed about Hamilton is that those bright eyes he used to have have gone. Anyway let’s see how the next race goes.


Re the commentary on the Melbourne F1 race today – Martin Brundle is a pleasure to liston to, but where or where is David Coulthard?

Martin’s co commentator is dreadful – he would do better commentating on a horse race. We switched off the sound early in the race. If this is what we have to look forward to, 2012 F1 racing season will be a complete write off.

Please let us have a commentator that does not get over excited at the sound of his own voice


You must have been watching Sky I assume if you are in the UK? I think you may have missed a lot of discussion about the BBC / Sky coverage…

Brundle has moved to Sky, and currently commentates alongside David Croft, formally of BBC Radio 5 Live, who has also joined them.

Meanwhile, Ben Edwards has moved to the BBC to join DC in the commentary box, while James has taken over on R5L.

I quite liked Ben Edwards, and was impressed by the BBC highlights package. I watched the race live on Sky, but the BBC only cut 20 mins of it for their show, and most of that was from the safety car period.


Interesting session. Clearly Red Bull are missing the blown exhaust this season. This seems to have affected the balance of the car, especially at the rear. My expectation would be that they will probably be stronger in race form when DRS is only enabled in tHe DRS zones and therefore the impact on the rear balance of the car is only affected in part of the lap,

I think Lotus have a strong car this year. Look to Kimi to win races later in the season. I think Schumacher will also win at Mercedes this year

Stone the crows

How long has it been since Red Bull have started this far down on the grid? I’m happy for Mclaren and Lotus, but the gloatfest over Red Bull’s start might be a bit premature, much less is it time to stick a fork in them. On the other hand, Ferrari; what does one say? How discouraging it must be to struggle through 2011 and then to seeminly start off worse in 2012. Alonso’s churlishness toward the marshalls at turn 1 tells volumes about the mood inside the Scuderia right now. I don’t think Mercedes will be on the podium tomorrow, but they will be making Lotus and Red Bull earn their days pay. I look for Webber to show better than Vettel, he’s been punching above his weight for years and can make more of what he has than most. Most of all I’m hoping to see a good result from Williams.


Great to hear you back on the airwaves James… and a great day as a Mclaren fan. Now for three hours sleep then the most exciting race in years!


Not much said about the performance of the Williams team. Great lap from Maldonado only 0.3 off the Red Bulls. Senna yes didn’t do as well but the pace in the car is clearly there. I just hope they can keep it up for the rest of the year.


Ferrari: Desastrri

Vettel: Gave his forefinger to Hamilton (VSign) – now he sounds like Schumacher, after his comeback, two years ago

Horner: Vodka Croissant is the biggest threat

Vodka Croissant: will destroy Kimi — as I predicted a month ago.

Schumacher: Magnificent

Hülkenberg: Will surprise us soon

FIA: Stole us last season by allowing the Bulls to keep the D-Diffusor


Hi James looking forward to seeing the race trackside! Anyone who gets the gong for being impressive so far this year? Early days yet Lotus look good tho I think I said the same thing last year!


Does anyone have a good link to somewhere which shows how this mercedes rear wing duct works. I was looking on the formula 1 website, but it wasnt very clear.

Also looking forward to 2012. No clearly dominant team, so there should many different winners of races. I hope the season goes down to the wire like 2010.


Happy to see bookmakers switch Ham. And Vet. Around in the season odds-that is the right way ….finally.


Whilst I am pleased to see McLaren back on top, I don’t think we should write off Reb Bull too quickly. I have no love for Alonso or Ferrari, but I found it sad to see his frustrations with the dog of a car being taken out on the marshals; did he really think they could push him out of the gravel?


A real shame Kimi didnt make it into Q2. I’m sure he would’ve been in the top 10 like Grosjean IF he got past the 1st stage. At the time, he was on mediums and was only a couple of tenths off on Grosjeans lap. Ah well, better luck next time I guess. On the bright side, it’ll be interesting watching him fight through the pack.

Always suspected that Mclaren were on top. I wonder how the top teams will fare on race pace (exclduing Ferrari from that group at the moment).

James, can RB switch back to the ‘A-spec’ car for the next races? One they will have more knowledge on and miles.

Finally, seems like a good year ahead. Not sure how quickyly RB will (if) they will close the gap to the Mclarens but I hope Lotus and Merc can keep up.


yeah the prancing horse is hardly prancing!!


finally we will get to see what vettel is really made of. if he has the 3rd best car for the rest of the season, and manages to finish the championship 3rd or higher, we will know he is a Great driver (like schumi in 2005, for eg). i hope for vettels sake that redbull have to struggle and work at it, so vettel has a chance to cement his reputation.


Couldn’t agree more, looks to be a very interesting and different year to 2011 (seriously considering the Sky Sport subscription). So glad the season is starting now! But I’m really interested to see what the Renault and the Mercedes does in the race and what their race pace is like. Can’t believe how well the Torro Rosso has performed either (still holding out judgement to see what their race pace is like).

Also, just wanted to add my thanks James for the Ferrari analysis. I didn’t get to see quali so had no idea if Alonso was looking good or not, and if he had have gone on would he have been much better than 12th.

john wainwright

Alonso (sic) sorry Fernando:)

john wainwright

Great quali’ from Schumacher but chuffed to bits with Lewis’s pole. F1 needs him to be firing on all cylinders. Just need Alonzo to have a better prancing horse and game on!


Shame about Kimi, I really hope he does well during the race. It’s good to see Schumacher back at the front end, it would great to see him fighting for wins.


Being a big Kimi fan, I can only hope that he can salvage some points this afternoon after a disappointing quali.


The relative performance of the cars (in particular the Red Bull and Ferrari) makes me wonder greatly about the around the off throttle engine mappings at Valencia and Silverstone last year.


Well a race with out maps is a different thing than a race without blown diffusers, so really no comparison can be made.


I’ve just watched schumi going on to check each car rear at the end of quali, he was soon joined by vettel and both of them spent a good ten minutes looking at their competition cars, which included a 5 min chat alongside the mclaren with vettel down to his knee looking underneath… They seemed a little surprised…


I want to see a photo of Adrian Newey down to his knee looking underneath the Maclaren. That photo should be boldly displayed at the lobby of the Maclaren Technology Centre!!


SV is being unfaithful to Abbey – looking up the skirts of other cars 🙂


Very interesting. And something that’d make me smile too. Where can I find footage of this?


Vettel dropped his car keys and they went under the mclaren apparently!!


i am so pleased for Schumacher and i am not even a fan of his.

i would love to see him up on that Podium along side Hamilton or Button.

as for Grosjean that is great news for Lotus, i just hope he can handle being at the top and mix it with big boys without crashing.

definitely going to be a great race.


Hey James, Did Webber have an issue with his KERS or have they removed it like they did last year? In an interview after quali he said “we didn’t have KERS” does that mean Vettel as well, or just his side of the garage?

Thanks for the insights.


I don’t think Red Bull would have it for winter testing, practice sessions and the first two quali sessions, and then remove it for Q3.


A lot of the drivers seem to use the word “we” and it almost always means them and their engineers rather than team mate.


I got the impression it wasn’t working, but you raise a good point


Hi James,

What is the reason for Ricciardo not to go out in Q3. Considering the lack of dry time on Friday, I’d be a bit surprised if it was just to save a spare set of tyres. We’re only expecting two stops, aren’t we?


Maybe he can use the new set of tyres to go longer on the first stint.


Maybe, although some models show three stops as faster. Limited dry running makes the picture hard to see


Where are all the comments that I allways enjoy reading? However Lotus Renault look great. James do you see Renault gelting more involved in the Enstone team again?


Sorry for the spelling by the way. It is this stupid IPad having Danish as preferred language.

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