Lewis Hamilton clinched the first Pole Position of the Season in fine style in Melbourne, inching ahead of local hero and Red Bull new blood Daniel Ricciardo with a time of 1:44:231. The biggest shock was that 4-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel could not do better than an unlucky 13th place.
After what was a very trying Friday, Saturday brought with it even more uncertainty and unpredictability. Friday’s timing sheets were largely dominated by the Mercedes teams and Fernando Alonso, and Practice 3 saw a similar status quo established.
Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg putting in an effort of 1:29:375 to get the fastest time of the session; his nearest challenger was Jenson Button, 1.4 seconds down the road. Alonso was next, pushing the Ferrari to its limits to contend with the Mercedes runners. Daniel Ricciardo also threw himself into the mix, placing fifth. Nico Hulkenberg followed him, and with Sergio Perez in 9th, it was a solid morning for the Indian team.
So, the general pecking order seems to be Mercedes-powered cars, with a smattering of Red Bulls and Ferraris. However, those with the Renault power engine are still facing trouble. Both Caterham drivers had to replace their Energy Stores (batteries) after FP2, and they only have 5 of those per season. Lotus had no change in fortune, with Maldonado bringing out the yellow flag at the end of FP3 due to an off, and Grosjean suffering a misfiring engine. The Frenchman was clearly disgruntled, remarking “nothing is solved!” to his race engineer Ayao Komatsu.
Vettel only struggled to 11th on the Medium tyre in FP3. He looked like he would improve on the Soft tyre, but during his quick lap, he suffered horrendous oversteer, thought to be due to a poorly-chosen torque setting, and so he abandoned it.
Little else happened in the session, although Jule Bianchi put in a decent effort to put his Marussia P14. However, this was helped by the non-runners of Grosjean, Bottas and Gutierrez, the latter two of whom will face 5-place grid penalties. Bottas’ gearbox needed replacing due to wear, and so did Gutierrez, but his malady was because of the ECU on the car failing and breaking it.
In the first session – now 18 minutes long instead of 20 – everyone was eager to get out, with all but one of the 22 cars on track. The absentee just happened to be Sebastian Vettel, who did his customary ‘wait-and-scare-em’ lap. He was fortunate not to scare himself, as he skimmed the wall at turn 10, but the lap fell short of his old standards and his time, though sufficient for Q2, was in the midfield. Ricciardo and Magnussen set the pace, and both Lotus drivers slid off the track a few times. The Lotus duo propped up the field, highlighting the team’s troubles once more. Rain fell during the last few minutes of the session, and curtailed running for everyone. The only person to brave it on the Intermediate tyres was Esteban Gutierrez, but with 19th place and a 5-place grid penalty, it was clearly just a reconnaissance lap, rather than any sort of competitive attempt.
Out: Chilton, Bianchi, Gutierrez, Ericsson, Grosjean, Maldonado.
With soggy tarmac thanks to Q1, most driver took a set of Intermediate tyres, although Kobayashi and Kvyat thought that the wet tyres would be worth a shot. However they soon replaced them. The track began to improve as the rain temporarily backed off, with Williams, Mercedes and Ferrari trading fastest laps. With just seconds to go, Kimi Raikkonen worsened his difficult Ferrari comeback by binning the F14T in the wall at Turn 3. This meant several driver had to slow down. One such driver was Sebastian Vettel, and unthinkably, the World Champion was out in Q2, the first time he’s failed to make the Shoot-out since Belgium 2012. Some massive scalps fell here, including Raikkonen, and Jenson Button too.
Out: Button, Raikkonen, Vettel, Sutil, Perez, Kobayashi
It rained more between the two sessions, and Wet tyres were the only way to go. Ever the contrarian, Alonso chose to put on Intermediates instead, and everyone else soon followed. In a session with so many young or less-competitive drivers (based on old form and previous seasons) only a few well-established names remained. Massa threatened the top of sheets all weekend but he only managed 9th place. The Brazilian almost threw his car into the wall at the super-fast curve between turns 10 and 11, but where Felipe failed, Daniil Kvyat succeeded, chipping away his front wing against the barrier.
It looked like Rosberg would be at the top as well, but when local boy Daniel Ricciardo seized the top spot for a matter of seconds, the crowd went completely manic, easily cheering louder than the decidedly quiet V6 engines. Lewis Hamilton made it slightly less sweet for the young Aussie when he took Pole for himself. However, considering Vettel’s demise and the relative pace during testing, it was a remarkable achievement for the youngster, especially considering his debut for the team. Hamilton’s pole puts him on equal terms with Nigel Mansell in terms of number of starts from that position, with 32.
1) Hamilton, Mercedes AMG
2) Ricciardo, Red Bull
3) Rosberg, Mercedes AMG
4) Magnussen, McLaren
5) Alonso, Ferrari
6) Vergne, Toro Rosso
7) Hulkenberg, Force India
8) Kvyat, Toro Rosso
9) Massa, Williams
10) Bottas, Williams (Will star 15th due to gearbox change)
Eliminated in Q2
11) Button, McLaren
12) Raikkonen, Ferrari
13) Vettel, Red Bull
14) Perez, Force India
15) Sutil, Sauber
16) Kobayashi, Caterham
Eliminated in Q1
17) Chilton, Marussia
18) Bianchi, Marussia
19) Gutierrez, Sauber (Will start 22nd due to gearbox change)
20) Ericsson, Caterham
21) Grosjean, Lotus
22) Maldonado, Lotus
The race will begin at 6am UK time tomorrow on Sunday, March 16.