Melbourne Qualifying: Hamilton leads McLaren charge as Ferrari mess up

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4-27, goes off track at turn 1. Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday 17 March 2012.

Lewis Hamilton survived an early scare before powering to the first pole position of the 2012 season in Melbourne

Mar.17 (PVM) Lewis Hamilton claimed the first pole position of the season when he powered to top spot on the grid in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, leading a McLaren clean sweep of the front row with Jenson Button setting the second fastest time as Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen struggled.

Qualifying parc ferme (L to R): Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1, Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren and Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren. Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday 17 March 2012.

Top three (L to R) Romain Grosjean (third) Lewis Hamilton (pole position) and Jenson Button (third)

Third quickest was Romain Grosjean in the Lotus E20 who has shown impressive pace and remarkable composure during the opening days of the season. He is definitely a more mature driver than the one who was given an ill-timed opportunity back in 2009 with Renault.

Hamilton, who started from pole in the 2008 Australian GP, peaked at exactly the right time was the only driver to go below the 85 seconds mark with his time of 1 minute 24.922 seconds and his final run was simply mega.

“It’s an incredible feeling to be back here and to get off to such a good start. It’s mine and Jenson’s first one-two in qualifying. I’m massively proud of the team. They never give up and this is the result of that. I think it’s going to be incredibly tough this weekend and intense throughout the race. The team need to be on point and so do  Jenson and I,” said Hamilton who survived a Turn 1 scare early on in the session.

Button, as has become his trademark, kept his powder dry until it really mattered and delivered a lap which was just shy of his team mate’s best and setting the scene for what could well be a McLaren show down down under, tomorrow.

Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren MP4-27. Formula One World Championship, Australian Grand Prix, Rd1, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday 17 March 2012.

Jenson Button second fastest in the McLaren MP4-27

The 2009 Australian GP winner said, “First of all, congratulations to Lewis and the team. We’ve done a very good job this winter and I think we’ve proved that today. The lights haven’t gone out yet but this is a great first result for us on Saturday. I think it’s looking like it’s going to be a very exciting season. We were close in the first two qualifying sessions but Lewis had the upper hand. I was close but it wasn’t quite enough.”

Grosjean’s return to the big leagues is going according to plan, he knows he is lucky to be given a very rare second chance by Lotus and he is adamant that this time things will work out. The Frenchman delivered a well calculated performance to head up the second row on the grid with the third fastest time, comprehensively outshining his high profile team mate.

The 2011 GP2 Series champion said, “It’s a fantastic job from everyone. It’s fantastic to be back in F1 and today I’m very proud. A few people believed in me through the toughest time and I’m back – almost at the top!”

Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 and Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing after Qualifying. Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday 17 March 2012.

Sebastian Vettel watches as Michael Schumacher is weighed after qualifying

Seven times world champion and four times Australian GP winner Michael Schumacher oozed confidence throughout the session in the much improved Mercedes, claiming fourth spot on the grid with a strong final run which saw him tantalisingly close to pole.

“It’s been pretty pleasant all weekend long. The car handled very well, as predicted. I’m just grateful that we did a reasonable job. The guys did a great job in the factory,” said Schumacher.

Next up and oddly subdued were the Red Bull pair, local hero Mark Webber and world champion Sebastian Vettel – fifth and sixth respectively. The RB8 at this stage not the weapon they had at their disposal at the same time last year.

Webber summed up his session, “We are aware where we need to improve and that’s something which we will look at. I don’t know what happened to Seb on his last lap, it looks like he made a mistake. I didn’t have KERS either but I’m satisfied with the job I did in Q3. It was one run and not a bad lap. The pace to the front was not overly surprising. You take your hat off to people who have done a reasonable job.”

Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB8. Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday 16 March 2012.

Mark Webber in the Red Bull Racing RB8

Vettel commented, “It was a bit [of] driving into the unknown but in the end it came out as we expected. McLaren did a massive step from Q2 to Q3. I should have been a bit better. I made a mistake so that’s down to me, probably [cost me] one or two places. Now we focus on the race tomorrow. I never allowed myself to get used to starting at the front – it was something special. The race will be long and tough for the drivers to get back into the rhythm but I’m looking forward to the race and looking to pass a few people.”

Nico Rosberg was seventh in the other Mercedes AMG W03, with Pastor Maldonado in the Williams FW34 eighth, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg ninth and the other local hero Daniel Ricciardo making up the top ten in his Toro Rosso STR7.

Drama struck early in the session when Raikkonen failed to make it out of Q1 after making a mistake in his final fast lap run, meaning that the 2007 world champion will start his comeback race from 18th on the grid.

Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams FW34. Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday 17 March 2012.

Pastor Maldonado led a Williams resurgence

The Iceman admitted, “I slowed down because we were supposed to have time for one more lap and I guessed we didn’t. Nobody told me when I slowed down that I had to hurry up. There’s no point to blame anybody and everyone is as disappointed as me. It’s a bad start.”

It was also heartbreak for the legions of Ferrari fans as they had to endure one of the worst qualifying days in memory for the team as Fernando Alonso got onto the grass braking into Turn 1 which caused the finicky F2012 to snap viciously out of control and embed itself in the gravel trap.  The furious Spaniard stormed away from his car which at this stage of the game is a huge flop. A ten minute red flag period ensued as marshals cleared the gravel trap.

Alonso’s time was good enough for 12th on the grid, and no doubt there was more pace in the double world champion but it was hardly on tap and will take a monumental effort to match the pace setters – not the ideal way to go racing.

His team mate Felipe Massa was on the back foot throughout qualifying, scraping into Q2 but then going no better than 16th. The Brazilian’s do-or-die season getting off to the worst possible start.

Alonso did not mince his words afterwards, “I think I touched the grass and unfortunately there is the gravel and you stop and finish qualifying. It’s a shame. I think we possibly could be a bit better, maybe top 10. What we need to concentrate on is the top speed. We are a little bit too slow at the moment – we are not quite quick enough. We need to change the direction quickly if we are to challenge for the championship. We have to react.”

Qualifying – Melbourne, 17 March 2012

Pos No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:26.800 1:25.626 1:24.922 14
2 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:26.832 1:25.663 1:25.074 15
3 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:26.498 1:25.845 1:25.302 21
4 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:26.586 1:25.571 1:25.336 18
5 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:27.117 1:26.297 1:25.651 17
6 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:26.773 1:25.982 1:25.668 18
7 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:26.763 1:25.469 1:25.686 16
8 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:26.803 1:26.206 1:25.908 20
9 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1:27.464 1:26.314 1:26.451 18
10 16 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:27.024 1:26.319 No time 16
11 17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:26.493 1:26.429 12
12 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:26.688 1:26.494 12
13 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:26.182 1:26.590 12
14 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1:27.004 1:26.663 16
15 11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:27.469 1:27.086 16
16 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:27.633 1:27.497 16
17 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:26.596 11
18 9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:27.758 9
19 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1:28.679 7
20 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1:29.018 8
21 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1:30.923 10
22 25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1:31.670 9
DNQ 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1:33.495 6
DNQ 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:33.643 6
Q1 107% Time 1:32.214

De la Rosa and Karthikeyan did not qualify, after failing to meet the Q1 107% time.

Subbed by AJN.