Sebastien Vettel won the pole for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix in dominant fashion Saturday but McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton let him know that the first race of the 2011 F1 season won’t be a walk in the park by finishing beside him on the front row.
As expected, the three big teams – Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari – dominated final qualifying and only Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari let down the side by finishing eighth.
Vettel and Hamilton are on the front row, followed by Mark Webber (Red Bull), Jenson Button (McLaren) and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari).
Vitaly Petrov in the Renault barged all the way up to sixth place and he was followed by Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes and then Massa. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) and Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso) rounded out the top ten.
Although Hamilton managed to make onto the front row, he was still significantly behind Vettel in terms of time. The world champion’s 1:23:529 was a banzai lap and the lap by Hamilton that got him into second place – 1:24:307 – was still 0:778 seconds slower (which does not seem like a lot but is, in the world of Formula One).
Speaking of slow, the also-ran teams of Lotus-Renault, Virgin-Cosworth and HRT-Cosworth aren’t any better than they were a year ago (more than six seconds slower than the pole time) and the HRT team of Tonio Luizzi and Narain Karthikeyan won’t be allowed to race on Sunday because they were outside the 107 per cent qualifying rule.
The big surprise of qualifying was the failure of Michael Schumacher to make it into the Top Ten for the final qualifying session. He’d run well through the first two sessions but couldn’t squeeze into the one that counted – the run for the pole.
His teammate, Rosberg, left him in his dust again and despite pre-season suggestions that F1 fans would see more of the "old Schumacher’ than was evident a year ago when he started his comeback, it looks like it could be more of the same in 2011, which raises the question: how much longer before he stops for good?
The race can be seen live at 1:55 a.m. Sunday morning on TSN and again at 8 a.m. on TSN2.
– Schumacher, Rosberg and Hamilton all had to go see the stewards after qualifying because of complaints of blocking. They were allowed to keep their starting positions but told not to do that sort of thing again . . .
– Ron Dennis was an interested observer in the McLaren pit. He undoubtedly enjoyed watching the fast driving because it was that – fast driving – that saw him lose his driver’s licence in Britain for six months for speeding.
– How come Michael Schumacher is given the honour of having his first initial included in his abbreviated name in the timing-and-scoring column? Vettel is VET, Webber is WEB, Alonso is ALO, Hamilton is HAM, Button is BUT and Schumacher is MSC. Is there another Schumacher in the field that I’m missing?
– The voices of Martin Brundle and David Coulthard were missing for the first 10 minutes of the qualifying recording Saturday morning and the sound would cut in and out periodically thereafter. But when they were on air, their observations were great – although Brundle, in his new role as chief presenter, spouted out a couple of Murray Walkerisms (identifying one car when talking about another).
– Both Brundle and Coulthard seemed surprised that Nick Heidfeld (filling in for Kubica at Renault) was eliminated in the first knockout session, considering that his teammate, Petrov, finished sixth. I don’t know why they were surprised. Just like Jarno Trulli his whole career, Nick Heidfeld has been all talent, all promise, all talk and NO ACTION. Just look at his record: 172 races, zero wins. It will soon be 173. Why, oh why, do those guys keep getting hired? (I’m going to review INDYCAR practice below and there are a whole lot of bums in that series that fit into this category too.)
– It’s said that Australia is a race like Montreal, in that the whole city and country are behind it. So how come there were all those empty seats, both Saturday during qualifying and Friday during practice? In Montreal, whenever the F1 cars are on track, every seat is always filled.
- Full qualifying report, with times, can be found here
INDYCAR TOP TEN
Will Power, who won five road/street races last year – including the Honda Indy Toronto – on the way to a runner-up finish in the IZOD IndyCar Series driver championship, topped the speed chart on the first day of practice Friday for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with a lap of 1 minute, 3.3759 seconds.
Dario Franchitti, the reigning series title-holder, was second with a quick lap of 1:03.5180 in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry.
There were 16 drivers, however, within one second of Power's No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, including Mike Conway in the No. 27 Team Godaddy entry for Andretti Autosport. Conway, who was third (1:03.6660), is making his first start since being injured in the Indianapolis 500 last May.
Ryan Briscoe (1:03.7214), the 2009 St. Petersburg race winner, was fourth overall and Scott Dixon (1:03.8734) fifth. Two-time event winner Helio Castroneves (1:03.9049) was sixth quickest.
Marco Andretti, four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais (making his IZOD IndyCar Series road/street debut with Dale Coyne Racing), Tony Kanaan (making his debut with KV Racing Technology-Lotus) and Danica Patrick (celebrating her 29th birthday) filled out the top 10.
The only Canadian in the 25-car field, Alex Tagliani, was 14th fastest. The other two women in the road-race portion of the series, Simona de Silvestro and Ana Beatriz, were 23rd and 25th respectively. Full qualifying report here
The INDYCAR series opener can be seen Sunday on TSN2, starting at 12:30 p.m. (pre-race).