A superb start to the 2012 Formula1 season! If you’ve been following pre-season testing and the lead up to the 2012 Australian Grand Prix, you would agree that there was little that one could judge about the relative pace of the top teams. Sometimes we saw a Red Bull on top and the other times a Mclaren or a Mercedes but never a Ferrari! This lack of relativity increased as your went further down the grid to the mid-field teams. Sauber, Sahara Force India, Lotus, Williams and even Toro Rosso showed top pace at different times in the off-season giving the fans and even Formula1 experts a hard time to make any pre-season predictions!
This unpredictability increased the expectations and the excitement from the qualifying session of the opening GP of the season. With those still hell bent on making a prediction, the usual names like Red Bull Racing and Mclaren were a safe bet with the bolder ones also choosing a Mercedes and Lotus. However, the qualifying hour in Melbourne revealed that and more, read my thoughts.
– The Mclaren duo were quick through the qualifying hour and Hamilton set down the marker in the early minutes of Q3 leaving others to do the chasing. Towards the end, Hamilton’s team-mate Button came closest but was unable to beat him allowing Hamilton to secure his 21st career pole and his first after the 2011 Korean Grand Prix.
– Button was only half a tenth off Hamilton’s pole lap, but his second place resulted in a Mclaren 1-2 in qualifying. The team’s first 1-2 finish since the 2009 European Grand Prix.
– The biggest surprise in qualifying was Lotus’ Grosjean, who is making a comeback to Formula1 this year. Grosjean put in a near perfect lap in the dying moments of the session to secure P3 for tomorrow’s race. He beat the Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing cars en route and his World Champion team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
– Lotus has been on the pace at the opening rounds for the last two seasons only to fade away mid-season. The team’s progress will depend on their ability to develop their car throughout the season, which is also the function of available budgets. Money from the new sponsors signed in the off-season will be welcome!
– The Mercedes AMG cars, which have been under much scrutiny this weekend, set early pace in the qualifying hour. In Q3, Rosberg’s mistake ridden qualifying lap saw him manage only P7, but his team-mate and 7 times Formula1 World Champion Michael Schumacher will start tomorrow’s race from P4. This is Schumacher’s best starting position since his comeback to the sport.
– The Red Bull Racing cars were expected to dominate proceedings in Melbourne, but that wasn’t the case in qualifying. Webber beat Vettel to P5 on the grid and the Newey designed cars will have their task cut out in tomorrow’s race.
– I expected atleast one Ferrari to make it to Q3 if not both, but neither Ferrari will start tomorrow’s race from the top 10!
– The most interesting part of Q3 was the battle between the mid-field teams. We have one driver each from a Williams, Sahara Force India and Toro Ross in the mix here. The exclusion of Ferrari from Q3 offered an easier chance to these drivers. However, if Ferrari’s struggles remain, the battle from P7 to P10 will be most interesting with 4 teams and 8 drivers with a legitimate chance to qualify inside the top 10.
(Drivers yet again stayed in their garages to save an extra set of tyres for tomorrow’s race. I expected this rule to change this year and you can read ‘A Tweak In Qualifying Rules Expected‘ to know more).
– Both Ferrari drivers ended up being eliminated in Q2 of qualifying. A rare error saw Alonso end his session in the gravel trap, whereas Massa was able to manage only a P16 on merit! Can Ferrari recover from this horrendous start?
– On a lighter note, Ferrari probably realized that an Alonso in the gravel trap is still faster than a Massa on track! Alonso will start from P12!
– The battle of the Sahara Force India drivers was most intense. Hulkenberg out qualified di Resta by 7 tenths to break into Q3. Hulkenberg will start from P9 and di Resta from P15.
– The Sauber drivers who showed pace in the pre-season tests were unable to break into the top 10. But I would expect them to do so in the coming races. Perez was unable to post a time in Q2 due to a gearbox issue. Team is not too sure if they need to change it already.
– Senna too was out qualified by his team-mate Maldonado by nearly 4 tenths. Senna will start ahead of di Resta’s VJM05 in tomorrow’s race.
– Toro Rosso’s rookie Vergne missed the Q3 cut by only a tenth and will start tomorrow’s race in P11.
– The biggest elimination of Q1 was the 2009 Formula1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen’s driver error in the out lap for his final run cost him vital seconds that were needed to cross the finishing line before the chequered flag. A missed opportunity for the Iceman after Grosjean qualified in the top 3?
– Interestingly, post elimination, Raikkonen and Lotus team were caught playing the blame game. Raikkonen who was under the impression that he had the time for an extra lap blamed the team for not keeping him informed, whereas the team blamed Raikkonen for making too many mistakes in the qualifying session! (Read post: Raikkonen’s biggest challenge for 2012 will be the Lotus F1 team)
– The Caterham F1 team was the biggest disappointment from the new comer teams though this is their third full season in the sport. Kovalainen will start in P19, followed by his team-mate Petrov in P20. The teams were nearly a second off Raikkonen’s Q1 lap. (Read post: Caterham F1 and their challenges for 2012)
– If I were Marussia, I would be rejoicing with this result. While the team will start P21 (Glock) and P22 (Pic) tomorrow, the team were well inside the 107% rule that allowed them to qualify for the race. The team had missed all their pre-season tests and managed their first lap in the 2012 car only in FP1 yesterday.
– HRT was in a similar position as Marussia in the pre-season. They struggled to get their car ready on time and missed all pre-season testing. The team’s drivers Karthikeyan and de la Rosa could manage only a 1:33 laptime which was outside the 107% target time of 1:32:214. Going strictly by the rule book, HRT will not be allowed to start the race tomorrow. However, the team management will appeal to the FIA to make an exception.
– Irrespective of the exception, I personally think that both HRTs should not be allowed to race from a safety perspective. Off the 3 complaints of driver blocking in Q1, 2 were with the HRT drivers (one each for Karthikeyan and de la Rosa).
Much like their qualifying pace, the race pace of the teams is unknown too. Tyre management will be key come Race Day. Basis reactions on social media and my Formula1 blog, I believe that fans are gunning for either a Button or Schumacher victory. My pick? Button or Schumacher!
In my earlier post, I had asked if 2012 will be Adrian Newey vs Ross Brawn. Going by Mclaren’s pace in today’s session, they will face fierce competition from Paddy Lowe and Neal Oatley!
While the excitement for the new season is building up, do also read the positive developments in Indian Motorsport on my blog. While the i1 Super Series has been cancelled, we have Toyota launching the Toyota Etios Motor Racing Championship for Indian motorsport fans. And if you prefer some technical Formula1 content, do read ‘Did the FIA react correctly to the ride height system episode‘?