Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix took place in Melbourne for the twentieth time, but it would not be an anniversary to celebrate for many thanks to the almost universal criticism that was heaped on Formula 1’s all-new qualifying format.
Despite being touted as a means of providing more on-track action and shuffling up the starting gird, the new format did nothing of the sort. The final result was so predictable that the track was completely devoid of cars in the closing stages of both Q2 and Q3, with no one bothering to go out to improve their times.
The team bosses – many of whom developed and voted for the concept – were sheepishly apologetic, while the fans and media were furious. Time will only tell whether it will go forward, be tweaked or whether the session will revert back to the previous qualifying format, which really didn’t need changing in the first place.
A true winner of qualifying was the Mercedes team, which showed its true dominant pace with both drivers locking out the front row of the grid once again. Lewis Hamilton took his fiftieth pole position with a few minutes left on the clock, in a qualifying system that was supposedly designed to go down to the wire.
Teammate Nico Rosberg needed a second Q3 run to pop up into third place – falling short of claiming pole position by 0.361 seconds – but was denied another shot at snatching top spot when it became clear that Mercedes’ front-row lockout was not going to be challenged by anyone else.
Both Ferraris will be starting from the second row on the grid, however they were elected not to get back out on track in Q3 to challenge Mercedes for pole position. Their logic was that it would be more sensible to save tyre sets for the race, rather than compromise their strategy for a few metres on the grid. Time will tell if this proves to be a smart call on their part.
Daniil Kvyat in the Red Bull Racing RB12 was unlucky early on. After showing excellent one-lap pace in final practice, he struggled with tyre warm-up on his first Q1 run. That left him in a lowly P18 and out of qualifying very early. His teammate Daniel Ricciardo was able to slip into in Q3, where he will start P8 at his home race.
Manor Racing’s Rio Haryanto received a three-place grid penalty for crashing into Haas’ Romain Grosjean in FP3 in the pit lane. He will start last tomorrow on the grid, but managed to out qualify his teammate and the current DTM champion Pascal Wehrlein, who will start ahead of him tomorrow.
It was a good day for Toro Rosso as Carlos Sainz will start P7 and Max Verstappen in P5. Both STR11s got into the top-eight with their 2015-spec Ferrari power units mated to a James Key-designed chassis that is highly rated in the paddock. These are two drivers to look out for tomorrow, who really shined last season.
Force India drivers Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez were knocked out of Q2, but will start from the fifth row of the grid. As they failed to make the Q3 cut, they will also have a free choice of tyre sets on which to start Sunday’s 58-lap race.
Images via Sutton Motorsport Images