Hamilton heads McLaren front row in Australia
17 March 2012 – Lewis Hamilton has grabbed pole position for the Australian Grand Prix. The 2008 Champion heads an all-McLaren front row from Jenson Button. In dramatic fashion, Romain Grosjean starts third for Lotus with World Champion Sebastian Vettel only sixth. Both Ferrari cars failed to make Q3 as Kimi Räikkönen was eliminated in Q1.
After pre-season testing and the mixed weather of practice in Melbourne, today’s drama started before the Q1 green light illuminated, as Lotus Team Principal Eric Boullier declared he could protest the result of qualifying after the session; this is due to Mercedes’ ‘super f-duct’ system – a slot in the rear wing which allows more air to enter, generating greater rear downforce when the DRS is in use.
Timo Glock was first on-track for Marussia, as he and new team-mate Charles Pic cemented their penultimate row positions ahead of HRT, whose own pair of drivers missed the 107 percent cut-off. Ahead, Caterham will be disappointed to miss Q2 with either of its drivers, with Heikki Kovalainen being ahead of new partner Vitaly Petrov.
The end of Q1 brought one of the biggest surprises of the day as Kimi Räikkönen continued to struggle with both the Lotus steering and traffic issues. He failed to make the first hurdle and will start from just 18th on Sunday. At the end of the opening period, midfield runners began to fit the Soft compounds tyres, allowing Kamui Kobayashi to top the timesheets for Sauber.
The packed track resulted in three steward investigations. These involve Narain Karthikeyan for holding up Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo for impeding Michael Schumacher and Pedro de la Rosa for delaying Kovalainen on the latter's final out-lap.
After Räikkönen’s early dismissal in Q1, the Ferrari demise generated big headlines in Q2. Pushing too hard in an underperforming car, Alonso touched the grass and spun into the gravel at Turn 1; like his Finnish title-winning counterpart, the Spaniard was clearly aggrieved and kept his helmet on as he returned to the paddock. He starts 12th, with team-mate Felipe Massa’s struggles continuing as he managed no more than 16th place.
As Toro Rosso newcomer Jean-Éric Vergne and the aforementioned Kobayashi missed Q3, there were standout performances from Pastor Maldonado, Nico Hülkenberg and Ricciardo who all qualified in the top ten. Third British driver Paul di Resta was unable to enjoy such success, crossing the line in Q2 for just 15th position.
With a straight-line top speed advantage even greater than that of last year, Mercedes appeared to be genuine pole position contenders. Initially, it looked as though former karting team-mates Hamilton and Nico Rosberg could battle for the top spot, but the latter locked up and spoiled his final lap at Turn 3 – he will set off from seventh place.
Mark Webber is the leading Red Bull starter from fifth as he, Maldonado and Hülkenberg elected to save tyres and go for just one flying lap in Q3. Vettel opted for two, but the German made small errors and was seven tenths down on Hamilton, later claiming that McLaren was ‘out of touch’ in this particular qualifying session. In tenth, Ricciardo – the second Australian in the field – saved tyres further by remaining in his garage.
Fastest in Practice 2 yesterday, Schumacher continued his solid weekend and enjoys fourth place on the grid – his best qualifying position for Mercedes. There was no doubting the standout performance, as F1 returnee Grosjean briefly seized second place for Lotus before Button confirmed the all-McLaren front row, a tenth and a half behind Hamilton’s pace-setting lap time of 1:24.922.
A 20th Formula 1 pole position for Lewis Hamilton equals the sums of Damon Hill and Fernando Alonso; incidentally, today's result marks the first McLaren front row lock-out since the 2009 European Grand Prix in Valencia. With expected dry weather but mixed tyre strategies and several famed runners out of position, Sunday’s race promises to be a thrilling start to the 2012 campaign.
The 2012 Australian Grand Prix begins at 5pm local time (BST +11) and can be followed through the interactive GPUpdate.net Live Report