Hamilton takes pole, Grosjean third, world confused
Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for the first race of the season at the Australian Grand Prix.
Hamilton posted an untouchable time of 1minute 24.922seconds, keeping a one-tenth buffer between him and second on the grid Jenson Button.
Most impressive, however, was second-time rookie Romain Grosjean’s effort, which landed him and his Lotus on the grid’s third place with a time of 1minutes 25.302 seconds – less than half a second off the pace.
It was a promising finale to Lotus’ qualifying session, with star recruit and 2007 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen being eliminated in Q1, relegating him to start from P18.
While the Finn was caught out on hard tyres at the end of the first part of qualifying, Eric Boullier blamed Räikkönen’s mistakes rather than any strategic error for the disappointing performance.
Räikkönen’s day was only made poorer by his younger and far less experience team-mate’s stellar effort.
Seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher found himself on the second row of the grid after a consistent evening in Melbourne. The legendary driver seems to have found another gear as he continues with his comeback, as has his Mercedes team.
While his team-mate Rosberg could only manage P7, several other teams are still considering launching an official protest against Mercedes and its controversial DRS/f-duct concept.
Both Red Bull and Lotus representatives have spoken to Charlie Whiting and, although the race director declared the device legal earlier in the week, is set to consider the matter over the course of the weekend.
Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel split the two Mercedes cars, with the Australian leading the way for his home race – albeit by about one-hundredth of a second.
It confirms the lukewarm start to the season Red Bull is having, with the team failing to stamp its dominance on the sport in the same way it did last year. Neither driver looked to be in the race for pole this evening.
Pastor Maldonado and Nico Hulkenberg, both in their second years will start from eighth and ninth on the grid with strong showings from their teams.
Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo outqualified his team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne to make into Q3. He’ll start from P10 for tomorrow’s race, just ahead of the Frenchman.
It’s the first strike in what will undoubtedly be a fascinating intra-team battle at Toro Rosso. Both drivers will be under no illusion that expulsion from the team will be the result for poor form, while promotion to Red Bull Racing will be the reward when next a seat become available.
Further down the order, things look grim for Ferrari, with neither driver able to make it past Q2.
Fernando Alonso will lead the team into the race tomorrow from P12. The Spaniard looked to be in reasonable form, but a mistake on the entry of turn one almost halfway through Q2 saw him beach his car, forcing him to walk away in frustration.
Worryingly, the best Felipe Massa could manage was sixteenth, with the once title contender at risk of failing to make it past Q3 at one point during the session.
The Scuderia has openly admitted that it is significantly slower than it hoped to be at this point in the year, and that a major development upgrade is due for Formula One’s return to Europe in May. It remains to be seen if it can salvage these first four rounds of the season.
Business continued as usual at the rear of the field, with the usual suspects of HRT, Marussia, and Caterham filling the final slots on the grid.
Caterham’s suggestions that it had moved closer to the midfield were validate, with Heikki Kovalinen’s 1minute 28.679seconds lap being around one second slower than next in the queue Sergio Perez.
HRT, as was the case last year, failed to qualify for the Grand Prix. Their best offerings of 1minutes 33.495seconds and 1minutes 33.643seconds, respectively from Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan falling outside the 107 per cent rule.
With qualifying done and dusted, the first race of the season awaits! Lights go out on the 2012 Formula One Australian Grand Prix at 5PM AEDT.