A dazzling day in Albert Park 29ºC with the track at 38ºC and dry, and a 3.3mps wind, the technical term for which is windy. With the soap opera at Sauber temporarily settled it was down to business for the teams, having survived the plethora of deadly flora and fauna of Oz, as well as the horrors of substandard accommodations for those teams bunking on Bernie’s dime.
With Manor unable to get on top of their software issues, the big story became McLaren’s lockout of the last row, with Button barely avoiding the ignominy of starting dead last after the checkers fell at the end of Q1.
Further up the grid it rapidly became apparent that the boys at Red Bull were indeed at best level with the car of Toro Rosso, given their weekendus horribilus. Ricciardo basically had no running in FP2 and FP3 which was only made better when Kvyat’s car had an exhaust fire near the end of FP3. Still Danny boy wrung the neck of his car and managed an appearance in Q3, with the chassis looking promising should they ever get on top of their engine mapping.
The biggest surprise at the sharp end had to be the sparkling performance of both Ferrari drivers with Vettel and Raikkonen taking P4 and P5 respectively with good long run pace on board.
It’s been obvious since Jerez that top spot belonged to Merc and despite a few nervous moments early in Q1, they did not fail to deliver (or disappoint, depending on your viewpoint) by utterly crushing the opposition. Despite the early practices belonging to Rosberg, after a changed torsion bar in FP3 it was all Hamilton’s show and he wound up seizing pole by 0.6s over Nico, and nearly 1.3s ahead of Massa in P3
As the lights went green to inaugurate the 2015 season it was Maldonado first to grace the circuit with his Lotus, followed by Sainz in the Toro Rosso. Shortly after Verstappen followed his teammate with Grosjean not far behind and an early appearance was put in by Ricciardo as well, no doubt anxious to get some extra track time in during the lengthy first session.
By the 16 minute mark it was a party with everyone rolling out of the pits at the same time the early birds were finishing bringing their tyres up to temperature
Early doors was Sainz taking P1 despite a little lockup with Maldonado chasing, but Pastor locked it up and lost the rear trying to better Carlos’ time. Meanwhile the Ferrari’s just had to be different by taking to the track on the Soft tyre whilst the rest of the runners were on the Mediums.
Hamilton took time out from his outlap to help with landscaping, running wide and cutting some overgrown grass.
Whilst he was thus engaged, Raikkonen took advantage of the Softs he was running to go P1 with a 1:30.1, though that was quickly to fall to his teammate as Vettel came through with a 1:29.3, both cars looking quite hooked up on the circuit. AS 12 minutes ticked by, behind them it was Bottas and Massa taking P3 and P4, though both of them were on the Mediums and the Mercedes had yet to set times
With the other shoe waiting to drop, Nico Hulkenberg decided to get some TV time for his sponsors by taking a quick trip to the beach in T1 while Ricciardo’s time was dropping like a stone down the sheets. He stopped the bleeding at P10 and managed to claw his way back to P8. AS that drama played out Hamilton on the Mediums set his first time, good for a temporary P3 as the halfway point of the session approached.
While that was occurring, Sainz managed to spin his car in the exact same place as he did in FP3, proving that practice *does* pay off.
Taking advantage of that distraction, Bottas splits the Scuderia pair by nipping P2 and then Rosberg has to go be all obvious and take P1 on the Medium tyre with a 1:28.906, whilst the McLarens, already on the Softs, were languishing in P11 and 12. Kvyat’s mechanics, in the meantime, had finally managed to screw his car back together after it had ignited near the end of FP3 and Danii rocked his way out of the garage to try and make Q2.
With 4 minutes left it was Nasr, Maldonado and Sainz languishing at the bottom of the time sheets, while at the other end Hamilton confirmed his FP3 performance by going 0.3s faster than Rosberg, though not without looking a little twitchy.
As Maldonado began his efforts to lift himself up the charts, Hamilton rolled into the pits along with the rest of the top 5, Rosberg, Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen.
With the end of the session looming, all eyes were on Kvyat as he made his first and only run to escape the drop zone, but as he ramped it up it was to be Sainz first to make his move, up to P5. Hot on his heels, Verstappen made it P3 and quite a show for the Toro Rosso tykes in their first F1 qualifying session.
A flurry of fast times hit the boards as the checkers dropped but it was Kvyat who escaped, leaving the only drama which of the McLarens would start dead last given the fact that Manor weren’t running. On this day, it was Button who proved to be fastest of the slow, edging his luckless teammate into P18 and confirming Macca’s thoroughly appalling back row lock out. Joining them in pit of shame would be Marcus Ericsson, for the moment thoroughly outclassed by his teammate.
Worth noting is the fact that only the Mercedes drivers and Bottas made it through on the Mediums, with the rest on Softs.
A thundering silence met the start of Q2 and it was well over a minute before Nasr finally blinked and rolled his Sauber out on track. To fill the silence, Sky let Christian Horner drone on incessantly about poor quality engine mapping by Renault giving non-linear throttle response being the cause of all his driver’s slowness, whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that Red Bull had insisted on “helping” with the software by delivering loads of experts to Viry Chatillon.
Mercifully, the new, better miked engines quickly put an end to the talking as Hulkenberg joined followed by Bottas and Perez. Clouds started rolling in and the track temperature began dropping rapidly, down to 29ºC.
With the pair on their hot runs, the rest of the field began emerging from the pits, everyone on Softs this time around.
First Raikkonen then Bottas started throwing purples everywhere, but then in walked Hamilton, erasing everyones best efforts.
AS 9 minutes went by first it was Bottas to the top with a 1:28.012, but he was immediately stomped by Hamilton coming home with a 1:26.894, a time that no one was going to touch.
That wasn’t going to stop Rosberg from trying, but even though he toppled Bottas from P2, he was still 0.2s off Lewis, whilst reporting that the engine cut out in T15.
At the back, Kvyat, Nasr, Hulkenberg, Perez and Maldonado lingered in the shadow of doom whilst Ricciardo managed a trip round the circuit at just the right time to grab P4 while no one was looking.
After everyone cycled through the pits for new tyres, it was Verstappen complaining of something pushing on his right shoulder and sounding anxious while Hulkenberg looked to have strung together a lap that would keep him in Q3. Until, of course, the last turn where he ran it wide and just about lost it altogether, costing him P10 by the narrowest of margins.
The flying of the checkers brought a blizzard of times, with Grosjean Ricciardo and Verstappen p8-10 and looking to improve whilst the top 3 lounged about the garage, taking selfies and practicing their “I’m relaxed” poses.
First up was Ricciardo who came upon Vettel at a delicate moment in his hot lap, though whatever ill feelings might exist between Vettel and his former employer did not influence Seb as he stayed well clear of the Aussie’s efforts, which put him P6.
Next was Perez, P12, Hulkenberg P11, Maldonado on it and Raikkonen running for who knows what reason into P4. Maldonado scored P7 and on his heels it was Kvyat missing out with P11.
But no rest for weary fingers as Nasr surprised in the Sauber for P9 and Sainz took over P7 and no sooner did that occur than Grosjean took Nasr right back out Verstappen could only manage P12 having gotten a little throttle happy and given himself a rather big moment and Maldonado nailed the last spot with a P10.
That makes it Nasr, Verstappen, Kvyat, Hulkenberg and Perez doing the walk of shame whilst the rest moved on for one more go. And officially, at least for the moment, the Toro Rossos look to be the equal of the Red Bulls.
Again the opening minutes of the session feature rather a lot of sitting about in the garage. In the meantime the track dropped another degree and the humidity had ramped up to 62%.
First to get his feet wet was Bottas whilst again Christian Horner polluted the airwaves, admitting that it was to be a battle against Toro Rosso for them this round, bravely disillusioning all 4 people that hadn’t already figured that out and then going on to say that the Toro Rosso drivers were having similar troubles to Red Bull with the engine mapping.
Ricciardo and Grosjean changed the subject by taking to the track as the rest of the field, led by Raikkonen and Hamilton rolled out at predictable intervals.
Bottas started his first run just past the 9 minute mark and immediately locked it up into T1, spoiling his whole lap before it had begun. Hamilton, by contrast, was clearly on it, from the moment he hit the start finish. His S1 time of 28.7 was staggering compared to Rosberg’s 29.2 and he was relentless throughout the lap, finishing with a 1:26.419. Rosberg failed to set a time as he lost in the next to last corner and hit the grass, then rolled straight on into the pits.
Behind Hamilton it was Vettel in P2, Massa in P3 and Raikkonen in P4 and Maldonado P5 as they all boxed for their last set of tyres around the 5 minute mark. Vettel had set his time on new Softs, with Kimi on scrubs, but coming back out it was Raikkonen on the new tyres and Vettel on the scrubs.
But it was Ricciardo leading the way and Massa bringing up the rear out of the pits. Ricciardo hit the line with less than 2 minutes to go and as he set off it was Hamilton reporting vibrations in the tyres as Ricciardo tried to wring every last tenth out of his car. IT was a provisional P3 that was immediately superseded by Raikkonen, then Bottas slotting in between them for P4 as Lewis came round on an even hotter pace to finish with a 1:26.327
Rosberg came in P2 0.5s down and it was Massa snatching up the crumbs of P3 as Bottas had a huge moment on the kerbs that cost him dearly, as not only did he lose time and finish P6, but he also injured his back.
Vettel and Raikkonen filled in with P4 and P5 respectively, and Seb is starting to look nearly as smart as Lewis when it comes to team jumping, in stark contrast to Alonso, whose career may ultimately be defined as much by the cars he didn’t get to drive as by his talent.
Lotus too, have a renewed lease on life, at least as long as the cash holds out.
AS expected, the Death Star of Mercedes utterly dominated in terrifying fashion, but the real story was Bottas’ bad back, which saw him taken to hospital for checks post quali. Bottas will rest in his hotel and have an examination in the morning but at the moment, the team admits it could go either way. If it it’s bad enough, however, then it would be Susie Wolff stepping in tomorrow to race for Williams, who would then become the first woman since Lella Lombardi in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix with a chance to score points, and only the 3rd woman ever to participate in a Formula 1 race, alongside Lombardi and Maria Teresa de Filippis.
|7||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|8||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso|
|12||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso|
|13||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull|
|14||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|15||Sergio Perez||Force India|