Saturday, March 17, 2012

Formula 1: Australian GP Qualification

OK, I think I've been massively wrong with my predictions last night. For a start here is the grid for tomorrow:

1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes)
2. Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes)
3. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault)
4. Michael Schumacher  (Mercedes)
5. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing-Renault)                   
6. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)                 
7. Nico Rosberg  (Mercedes)                     
8. Pastor Maldonaldo (Williams-Renault)               
9. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India Mercedes)                 
10. Daniel Ricciardo (STR-Ferrari)               
11. Jean-Eric Vergne (STR-Ferrari)               
12. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)           
13. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber-Ferrari)           
14. Bruno Senna (Williams-Renault)                   
15. Paul di Resta (Force India Mercedes)                     
16. Felipe Massa (Ferrari)                   
17. Sergio Perrez (Sauber-Ferrari)                 
18. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault)                 
19. Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham-Renault)           
20. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham-Renault)                     
21. Timo Glock (Marussia-Cosworth)                     
22. Charles Pick (Marussia-Cosworth)                   
DNQ Pedro de la Rosa (HRT-Cosworth)
DNQ Narain Karthikeyan (HRT-Cosworth)

McLaren Mercedes  
Image Copyright: Top Gear

A dominating performance by the two British former world champions in the third qualifying session today gave McLaren P1 and P2 on the grid for tomorrow. No other team came even close in terms of single lap performance. If this car can keep the same tempo in long runs (and I think it can), McLaren are massive favorites for tomorrow. One of the only two cars not guilty of the "ugly nose" sin, the new MP4-27 might be the car to beat this year. This is also the first time in which Button and Hamilton will start side by side on front row. Will there be a fight for the first corner? Hamilton once again outperforms Button in the qualification to put another pole under his tally but can he beat his teammate in the actual race? 

Lotus Renault
Image CopyrightAutomedia

There is a Lotus on P3 but it is not Raikkonen. The rookie Romain Grosjean demonstrate a very stong performance in Q1 and Q3 to snatch a place in the company of three former world champions in top four on the grid. It seems that E20 actually has its chances this year but Kimi is not taking them. A really disappointing start for the 2007 F1 champion who managed to get only to P18 and went out of contest in the first qualifying session. We will see from the next few starts which Kimi returned to F1 - the one that won the title by a blink of an eye in 2007 or the one that was very unmotivated and retired in 2009. In the mean time, Grosjean is the real Cinderella of the Albert Park qualification but can he hold his own against the likes of Schumacher, Webber, and Vettel on the start tomorrow?

Mercedes AMG
Image CopyrightAuto India

A solid performance in the testing and in the practice sessions yesterday suggested that Mercedes are really close to the top this year. It seems this is indeed the case. After a one-two in Q2, Schumacher and Rosberg managed to collect P4 and P7, respectively, on the grid. Brawn obviously has not lost his acumen to design amazing F1 cars, despite the disappointing W01 and W02 in the previous two years. Schumacher's start from the second row alongside Grosjean is his bet performance in a qualification since his comeback. MS could not really challenge the McLarens but it is noteworthy that he managed to outqualify Rosberg, a feat that seemed impossible last year. Is the seven-time world champion smelling blood? Can he roll back the years and not only defend himself against the two Red Bulls behind him but also attack the MP4-27s at the front? We all remember that in 2011 the King was really great at snatching places during the start.

Red Bull Renault
Image CopyrightFormula 1 On Live

R8 seems to be a mediocre successor of R6 and R7 as for the first time in a long while Red Bull are not even close to the front row. Not only were Vettel and Webber slower than the McLarens but even the fellow Renault-powered Lotus and Mercedes got the better of them in all qualifying sessions. Mark uncharacteristically outperformed his teammate and reigning double world champion Sebastian. Vettel who time and time again would just take 0.7 of second in Q3 out of his pocket last year seemed dismal during the Albert Park qualification in 2012. Can he still make it three in a row? Can the Red Bulls put a better performance during the race? 

Image CopyrightFormula 1 On Live

Mamma Mia, where are Ferrari? After Alonso went into the gravel midway through Q2, Massa's could not manage more than 16 on the grid, leaving the team with out a top 10 driver for the start tomorrow. Ferrari's deteorating performance starts to look quite similar to the state of the Scuderia BMS (before Michael Schumacher). Even after retiring in 2006, he retained a consulting role with the black horses for two more years that actually kept his championship-winning team together. Far more than driver, Michael was the unifying force behind Ferrari's success (even after retirement). As he went to Mercedes to become once more an active driver, the Scuderia Ferrari seems lost. If I was Luca di Montezemolo, I would kick Massa in the end of the season (he is obviously not the same driver since his 2009 accident) and hire Schumacher back. On the other hand, if Schumi does retire again in the end of the season, the second he does so I would hire him as team principal. He obviously knows how to pull the strings in the Italian team and they are still the team of his heart. Why not? It can hardly get any worse than not qualifying for the last session of the qualification.

The Rest

Williams managed a surprising eight position just behind McLaren, Lotus, Mercedes, and Red Bull as the 1996 champion with them Damon Hill kick-started a commenting gig with Sky. Can the grey haired Brit out-perform fellow former Williams driver Coulthard in the off-track battle for the hearts and TV sets of Britain?

If you liked this post you might also like my review on first three episodes of The Grid and my somewhat inaccurate 2012 F1 season prediction. What are your expectations for the race tomorrow? Are you as exited as I am that the balance of power on the grid seems to be shifting. 

You can also follow me on twitter, where I will be live-tweating the race tomorrow at @dsj070 :)

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