Sebastian Vettel has declared himself a clear favourite this weekend by securing pole position for the Australian Grand Prix in truly dominant fashion.
Comfortably quickest of anyone in Q1 and Q2, Vettel finished up over eight-tenths of a second quicker than second-fastest Lewis Hamilton, with a time of 1:23.529 securing the German his sixteenth career pole.
Hamilton hustled his ‘de-scoped’ McLaren MP4-26 onto an impressive front-row starting position for tomorrow’s race, denying Red Bull a clean sweep of the front row with his best lap time coming in the dying seconds of the final qualifying session.
While he will be starting his race on the clean side of the circuit, Mark Webber will be disappointed to be third – particularly with the margin he is behind Vettel – and his RB7 just didn’t seem as hooked up as his team-mate’s.
Jenson Button completed the top-four in the second McLaren, while Fernando Alonso finished fifth-quickest, having used all of his soft-compound tyre sets to ensure a berth in Q3. Felipe Massa qualified eighth-fastest and suffered a clumsy spin at Turn 1 on his out-lap along the way.
Splitting the Ferraris and qualifying a very laudable sixth-fastest was Vitaly Petrov, while Nico Rosberg finished quickest of the Mercedes GP duo to take seventh, showing an improvement for the silver cars.
Rounding out the top-ten was Kamui Kobayashi, whose Sauber look particularly quick at times, while Sébastien Buemi ended his run of five consecutive beatings in qualifying at the hands of team-mate Jaime Alguersuari (13th) to give his Toro Rosso team a rare Q3 appearance. The Swiss driver will start in tenth place.
Missing out on Q3 by just 0.089 seconds was Michael Schumacher, who just couldn’t string it all together when needed to see two Mercedes GP cars in the final-ten.
Of the four rookie drivers, Sergio Pérez has qualified quickest in his Sauber to take 13th on the grid, with Force India’s Paul di Resta and Williams’ Pastor Maldonado occupying the next two slots. Both the Scot and the Venezuelan managed upstage their much more experienced team-mates: Adrian Sutil suffered a scary high-speed spin when he lost the back end of the car as he exited the final corner, while Rubens Barrichello made a rare blunder, spinning into the Turn 3 gravel on his Q2 out-lap.
And it was embarrassment in equal proportions for Nick Heidfeld, who will start from 18th place, earning the indignity of being the only driver from the non-sophomore teams to be knocked out in Q1.
And as for the three sophomore outfits – Team Lotus, Virgin Racing and Hispania Racing – well, none of them would seem to have made any progress relative to the midfield.
Heikki Kovalainen edged out Lotus team-mate Jarno Trulli by just 0.09 seconds to take 19th on the grid, while at least both Virgins could breathe a sigh of relief by posting times within 107% of Vettel’s fastest Q1 lap time.
Predictably, both HRT F111s fell short of being able to make the cut for the grid, although Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan completed more laps in Q1 than either had managed in any of the previous sessions combined. Liuzzi lapped just over two seconds slower than Jérôme d’Ambrosio (the slowest driver to qualify), while he was some 1.3 seconds quicker than team-mate Narain Karthikeyan.
The Spanish outfit will now need to apply for clemency from the FIA stewards and rely on getting the green light from all of the other eleven teams in the pit lane in order to be given permission to start the race. Should their efforts be blocked, they will become the first team to register a double-DNQ since the farcical Mastercard Lola outfit at the 1997 Australian Grand Prix.
2011 Australian Grand Prix – Qualifying Session Times:
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault||1:25.296||1:24.090||1:23.529|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes||1:25.384||1:24.595||1:24.307|
|3.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault||1:25.900||1:24.658||1:24.395|
|4.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes||1:25.886||1:24.957||1:24.779|
|7.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes GP||1:25.856||1:25.606||1:25.421|
|9.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari||1:25.717||1:25.405||1:25.626|
|10.||Sébastien Buemi||Toro Rosso Ferrari||1:26.232||1:25.882||1:27.066|
|11.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes GP||1:25.962||1:25.971|
|12.||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso Ferrari||1:26.620||1:26.103|
|13.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari||1:25.812||1:26.108|
|14.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes||1:27.222||1:26.739|
|15.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Cosworth||1:26.298||1:26.768|
|16.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes||1:26.245||1:31.407|
|17.||Rubens Barrichello||Williams Cosworth||1:26.270||no time|
|19.||Heikki Kovalainen||Team Lotus Renault||1:29.254|
|20.||Jarno Trulli||Team Lotus Renault||1:29.342|
|21.||Timo Glock||Virgin Racing Cosworth||1:29.858|
|22.||Jérôme d’Ambrosio||Virgin Racing Cosworth||1:30.822|
|23.||Vitantonio Liuzzi||HRT F1 Cosworth||1:32.978|
|24.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT F1 Cosworth||1:34.293|
[Original image via Sutton Images]