The 2014 Formula 1 World Championship got off to a wet but thrilling start with Lewis Hamilton stealing pole position for the Australian Grand Prix, from Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, on his final flying lap of Qualifying with Red Bull new boy Daniel Ricciardo stealing the show with the second best time, in a session which saw some big reputations taking some mighty knocks and the young guns making their marks early.
As if Formula 1’s brand new turbo era did not have enough challenges, mother nature decided to add some spice to proceedings as rain, which had loomed since daybreak over Albert Park, finally bucketed down just before Q2,setting the stage for a dramatic half hour of action.
As expected Hamilton and Rosberg had the firepower to feature constantly at the sharp end of proceedings, while Ricciardo surprised all with a solid Qualifying where he too was a factor throughout the session and very nearly nicked pole on his debut for Red Bull. It wasn’t to be, but he certainly outshone teammate Sebastian Vettel.
In fact the world champion was out of sorts all of Saturday, after a reasonably positive start on Friday. As a result he failed to make it beyond Q2 – his time was only good enough for 13th.
He was not the only one to suffer in Q2 as Kimi Raikkonen, who was struggling, relative to Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso, slithered into the wall after getting on the power too early. His session ended on the spot with him 12th on the timing screens.
Jenson Button looked good in Q1, but could not carry the pace over to Q2 and the yellow flag situation did not help his cause, 11th was the best he could do, while his rookie teammate Kevin Magnussen gave a superb account of himself to eventually set the fourth best time, and will start on the second row of the grid in his grand prix debut.
But in the end the day belonged to Hamilton who has looked feisty and up for it since he set foot in Melbourne. With Rosberg fastest as Hamilton started his final lap the pressure was on and the 2008 F1 World Champion rose to the occasion to post the fastest lap with Pirelli Wet tyres strapped on.
He said afterwards, “It was difficult to know where the turnover point was for Intermediates and Full Wets. Do you take a risk or not? We decided not to. Ricciardo did a good job on the Intermediate tyres, so it was a close call between the two tyres. The conditions made it extremely difficult. I hope the weather is better tomorrow, for the fans, but also for us.”
“The new cars are harder to drive in the wet and it’s the first time for me driving in these conditions – as I’m sure it is for a lot of other drivers. But to be up here is a great showing for the team. It’s great for Ricciardo, too, in his first grand prix for Red Bull.”
Ricciardo did his bit for ticket sales in the build-up to his home race, then set about delivering a star performance in front of the partisan home crowd who cheered his every move on track.
With the conditions on the cusp of Full Wets and Intermediate tyres, the team opted for the latter and Ricciardo set about attacking the pace setting Mercedes duo, splitting them as he ensured a front row start on his debut for the world champion team.
A beaming Ricciardo said, “I’m so happy for me to be up here and for the team to have a car on the front row. It wasn’t looking like this a few weeks ago so I’m pretty pleased right now. “It was exciting, definitely the weather added to the mix. The whole session went well. Not everyone was out with the Options in the beginning, Q1 looked like it was going OK for us.
“When the rain fell, it was the first time we have all driven on the limit in wet conditions. It was tricky but at the same time a lot of fun, It’s nice to be always up there, setting times which put us in the battle for pole. It’s nice for me and also for the team.”
Rosberg came close, but not close enough, as he will start the race from behind his teammate on the grid but showed throughout the weekend thus far that he too has race winning potential, helped as isHamilton by a very solid piece of kit in the W05 which looks to be the class of the bunch as the season kicks off.
The German summed up his afternoon, “I’m not sure what the others were doing – we didn’t get everything right, but we didn’t do much wrong, but all in all it was a good Qualifying session. I’m pleased with third – we could do better, but at least with that a good race is possible.
“It will be a different story tomorrow depending on the weather. There is a small chance of rain but it’s more likely to be dry and totally different. Melbourne is the most difficult track for fuel consumption so it will be difficult to save fuel during the race. It will be a big challenge.”
As mentioned Magnussen delivered for those who had faith in promoting him to the McLaren race seat, and his heroics were well and truly appreciated by team boss Ron Dennis who watched with relish from the pit garage. He will start from the second row.
For Ferrari it was an afternoon of mixed fortunes and perhaps disappointment that the F14T is not up there with the pace setters at this early stage. Alonso started Q3 with Intermediates, which was too early for them to be effective and then came in for Full Wets, going out again but perhaps at a time when the inters would have been more effective, as in the case of Ricciardo. Nevertheless the Spaniard will start from fifth on the grid.
For a team suffering the woes of the Renault clan, Toro Rosso delivered a class performance in Qualifying, with Jean-Eric Vergne showing his prowess in adverse conditions by setting the sixth fastest time, and teenage rookie Daniil Kvyat giving an impressive showing in his Qualifying debut. He will start from eighth on the grid, after a gutsy performance which saw him clip the wall late on in Q3 – but full marks for effort and commitment.
Williams can surely be forgiven for being disappointed with ninth and tenth for Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas respectively, as they have been tipped as ‘best-of-the-rest’ behind the Silver Arrows. But on the day, resplendent in their iconic Martini Racing livery, they simply did not have the muscle when it mattered. Bottas will move five places down the grid thanks to an engine change yesterday.
The penalty promotes the illustrious trio of Button, Raikkonen and Vettel up a place each on the grid, all with their teammates substantially further up the grid…
Down the wrong end of the timing screens, it was a disastrous day for Lotus, last year’s winning team totally unprepared for the season-opener with their increasingly dubious E22 which is proving to be virtually undriveable.
Romain Grosjean was slowest of all, but thankfully within the 107% rule. Pastor Maldonado failed to set a timed lap and his participation in the race will be at the mercy of the race stewards.
Grosjean summed up his frustration, “We had a lot of problems today and every time we fixed one, another one came along! The guys are working very hard and it’s a tough situation for everyone. We just have to learn everything we can every time we are out in the car on the track.
“Yes it’s frustrating, but I’m the one who has the easiest life as I’m not working all night on the car. The whole team is here to win, so when it doesn’t go to plan it’s not great. It could still be made into a monster of a car if we all pull together as a team. We’ve been through some tough times in the past so we’ll work our way out of it.”
At the sharp end the scene is set for a cracking opening race to the season, with Mercedes set to start as favourites as predicted since Bahrain, but Red Bull have shown signs of being able to match them on pace and now it remains to be seen if Renault have made any positive strides in the reliability department. Whatever the case an intriguing race is on the cards…make that an intriguing season!
Subbed by AJN.
Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying – Saturday, 15 March 2014
|2||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:30.775||1:42.295||1:44.548||20|
|7||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:33.893||1:43.658||1:46.030||20|
|13||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:31.931||1:44.668||13|
|16||11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1:34.141||1:47.293||13|
|Q1 107% Time||1:37.129|