Australia: Qualifying Debrief

By on Saturday, March 17, 2012

Questions answers, more questions asked. That was the case after qualifying on Saturday at Albert Park.

Lewis Hamilton leads an all-McLaren front row that suggests the Woking based team will have the car to beat. Hamilton looked at ease behind the wheel of the MP4-27 and everything he did came to him effortlessly.

As predicted yesterday, Mercedes proved to be the dark horse. Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg will start 4th and 7th yet Ross Brawn admitted disappointment with their Q3 performance. The car appears to lack the final tenth compared to McLaren in qualifying trim, but it is a massive step forward for the Silver Arrows. The main question now will be whether Schumacher and Rosberg can make the car work over 58 laps.

There will be long faces down at Red Bull. Mark Webber may have had a KERS issue while Sebastian Vettel admitted making a mistake on his lap but fifth and sixth was unexpected. Just what is wrong with the car is difficult to know, but the straight line speed deficit is key. In 2011 they could hide this by greater amounts of downforce but the new rules seem to have hurt them. Vettel made errors throughout qualifying and was struggling with the RB8. There will also be concerns about the straight line speed of the car - Vettel and Webber rank only 19th and 20th, some 13 kph slower than Sergio Perez. It means overtaking will be difficult for both of them.

All winter long we’ve suggested the F2012 was a troublesome machine. In qualifying, we were proved right. Felipe Massa could barely control the car, managing a paltry sixteenth. Fernando Alonso coped better initially but spun off in Q2, dropping to twelfth. Both drivers are having to push the limits simply to guide the car through a corner and you get the feeling heads will roll at Maranello. A B-Spec car cannot come fast enough. Like with Red Bull, straight line speed will be a concern. While Sergio Perez's Ferrari-powered Sauber is quickest, Alonso and Massa are 17th and 18th, 10kph slower. Alonso has four sets of tyres available tomorrow and points should be achievable, although Massa has struggled all weekend and only has two sets of tyres left. It will be a great challenge for the under-pressure Brazilian.

It was a mixed day for Lotus. Kimi Raikkonen disappointed the F1 world with eighteenth on his return following traffic and a mistake on his quickest lap. Nevertheless, the mood was raised by a stunning lap from returnee Romain Grosjean. After his problems in 2009, it’s superb to see Grosjean prove his worth and start amongst the big guns.

The midfield produced a few surprises as well. Pastor Maldonado’s great Q2 lap leaves him 8th on the grid, while Toro Rosso’s tenth and eleventh will be an encouraging foundation for their young drivers. Bruno Senna lines up fourteenth to complete a promising day for Williams. Nevertheless, one lap pace was okay in 2011 as it was in the race where the car went to pieces. Watching the South American duo tomorrow will be interesting. Paul di Resta will be slightly disappointed with fifteenth, while Caterham don’t seem to have made the step forward to the midfield. They may keep banging the 'we're getting closer' drum, but it's unconvincing. Timo Glock was only a second behind Vitaly Petrov, which will be promising for the beleaguered Marussia team. HRT on the otherhand were a danger to other drivers and have been told to try again in Malaysia next weekend.

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