Of course my heart goes out to Bahrain for all of the turmoil the country is in, but from a purely Formula One perspective, I’d be lying if I told you I was anything but pleased to see F1 2011 kick off in Australia.
After a very interesting set of preseason tests it looked as if Red Bull and Ferrari were the teams to beat. McLaren were floundering with a poor car and the mid-field looked the best in years.
This was, however, not the situation in Melbourne. Whilst McLaren seemed to have pulled together to turn their car around in an astonishingly short space of time, Ferrari seem to have forgotten the meaning of speed.
Now I must admit, though I hoped for more exciting qualifying in 2011, I think I knew in the back of my mind that little would change from the pretty uniform sessions we witnessed last year.
I’m afraid Melbourne 2011 had it’s moments, but was on the whole very similar to 2010. Of course, I think (and hope!) the real difference will be seen on Sunday. We’ll have to wait to confirm this, but for now let’s get on with the qualifying.
Vitaly Petrov opened the new season with a time of 1:29:463. In the early stages of Q1 Renault continued their very promising form from testing by locking out the top spots.
Renault’s time on top was relatively short lived though as seven minutes in Sebastian Vettel shot to P1 closely followed by Mark Webber and both McLarens.
It became very clear, very quickly that qualifying was going to be a straight race between Red Bull and McLaren. Fernando Alonso did manage to get his Ferrari up to P3, but it was just as clear that Ferrari were simply not fast enough.
Both Mercedes drivers put in decent performances and I was very pleased to see Jamie Alguersuari right up in P7 (at this stage in front of both Ferraris!). Fan favourite Kamui Kobayashi was also driving very well and found himself in P4 with just five minutes left!
Of course, all of the so called ‘new teams’ occupied the drop out zone. Lotus had spent a lot of money trying to improve their car, but these new boys just simply aren’t good enough. Hispania weren’t even able to make up 107 percent rule (a driver/team who does not lap within 107 percent of the pole time set will only be aloud to race if the Stewards and other teams agree that they can do so).
Both Ferrari drivers were so worried about their lack of pace that they sacrificed one of their three sets of soft tyres just to survive. Alonso was eventually fine, but Felipe Massa had to fight right until the end!
Ferrari’s No. 2 was in the drop out zone with seconds left and it was only thanks to a solid final lap that Massa was able to limp through in P11. This was at the expense of Nick Heidfeld, but that was unfortunately the only significant shock of Qualifying 1.
Q1 Top Three
Nick Heidfeld, Heikki Kovalainen, Jarno Trulli,, Timo Glock, Jerome d'Ambrosio, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Narain Karthikeyan
Alguersuari was the first man to set a time in Q2 with a 1:26:103. It would be interesting to see whether the big teams simply breezed through in Q2 this year as they did most of last year.
The front runners were given a very early present when we got our first Q2 drop out just minutes in. Rubens Barrichello made a very strange mistake going into turn three. He clipped the grass, span, and beached himself in the gravel. Game over Rubens.
I’m afraid what followed was pretty uniform. The fight was close between McLaren and Red Bull, but Vettel simply looked unstoppable.
With six minutes left, we still had no significant times from Ferrari. Fernando Alonso looked to be having a great lap, but seemed to loose time in the final sector and could only manage a disappointing P4 (disappointing by Ferrari and Alonso’s standards). Felipe Massa was down in P6.
I haven’t said much about Q2, because there really wasn’t much to write about.
I think it is worth mentioning Adrian Sutil’s late spin as I think it highlights a very clear danger in the new rules. Whilst I dislike KERS, I have no real problem with it. What I do have a problem with is the new moveable rear wings as they add yet another thing for a driver to concentrate on and I simply believe moving parts are dangerous.
Sutil was pushing like crazy into the final corner and I think he broke too late. This meant that his rear wing didn’t have enough time to close which messed with the cars balance and sent the Force India into a huge spin. Sutil handled this beautifully and escaped unharmed but if that had been a race with cars close behind, I don’t want to imagine the carnage it would have caused!
We did also get some last minute excitement from Michael Schumacher when the Mercedes man found himself in P11 with one lap to save his afternoon. Schumacher drove his ass off and I suppose it was tense, but when the Mercedes driver failed to make it through I couldn’t help but simply feel déjà vu from last year.
Q2 Top Three
Michael Schumacher, Jamie Alguarsuari, Sergio Perez, Paul di Resta, Pastor Malonado, Adrian Sutil, Rubens Barrichello.
Lewis Hamilton set the first time of 1:24:501 and his team mate Jenson Button slotted comfortably in P2.
The afternoon was effectively finished though when Sebastian Vettel blitzed the rest of the pack with an early, astonishing 1:23:529. Mark Webber took P2 from the McLarens but even he was eight tenths slower than his sister car.
Fernando Alonso fought as hard as he possibly could with his car. Though it looked as if Ferrari would find themselves on the front row after the first two sectors, when Alonso crossed the line in P5 it was clear that his team were going to finish disappointingly.
This disappointment was made even worse when Felipe Massa spun just exiting the pits! Many experts believe that the new tyres aren’t laying enough rubber down and so a lot of the teams were exiting the pits more carefully than Massa did. The Ferrari clipped a curb and was sent into a spin.
Lewis Hamilton gave fans a last-minute lap of excitement, but no one could topple the mighty lap of Sebastian Vettel.
So, what have we learnt now?
McLaren have turned themselves around and look to be the biggest challenger for the top team which is unquestionably Red Bull. Ferrari are just slow, and the mid field isn’t as fast as I would have liked. This all contributed to a rather dull qualifying session. However, as I said earlier, I honestly didn’t expect much from qualifying today.
I believe that we’ll see the real changes tomorrow. I hope we’ll see a strong fight between McLaren and Red Bull. I also hope Ferrari will do better in race trim. The key for tomorrow’s success lies in the tyres. If the tyres create grip and ware problems we could see a huge role for the strategists and a fantastic race.
I sure hope this is what happens, as if Sunday is too similar to today I can’t see anything but a Sebastian Vettel total victory on the cards.
1 Sebastian Vettel, RBR-Renault, 1:23.529
2 Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, 1:24.307
3 Mark Webber, RBR-Renault, 1:24.395
4 Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes, 1:24.779
5 Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1:24.974
6 Vitaly Petrov, Renault, 1:25.247
7 Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP, 1:25.421
8 Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 1:25.599
9 Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber-Ferrari, 1:25.626
10 Sebastien Buemi, STR-Ferrari, 1:27.066
11 Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP, 1:25.971
12 Jaime Alguersuari, STR-Ferrari, 1:26.103
13 Sergio Perez, Sauber-Ferrari, 1:26.108
14 Paul di Resta, Force India-Mercedes, 1:26.739
15 Pastor Maldonado, Williams-Cosworth, 1:26.768
16 Adrian Sutil , Force India-Mercedes, 1:31.407
17 Rubens Barrichello, Williams-Cosworth,1:26.270
18 Nick Heidfeld, Renault, 1:27.239
19 Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus-Renault, 1:29.254
20 Jarno Trulli, Lotus-Renault,1:29.342
21 Timo Glock , Virgin-Cosworth, 1:29.858
22 Jerome d'Ambrosio, Virgin-Cosworth, 1:30.822
23 Vitantonio Liuzzi, HRT-Cosworth, 1:32.978
24 Narain Karthikeyan, HRT-Cosworth,1:34.293