Lewis Hamilton was looking for his 8th pole position at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne Australia this weekend. There were a throng of drivers who far less interested in helping Lewis achieve that. Chief among them was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Testing suggested Ferrari had the edge. Friday’s practice sessions suggested they didn’t. Red Bull entered the qualifying session as still a bit of an unknown but the same could be said of Haas F1, McLaren and Racing Point. Lots of questions but very few answers and those answers would come in the first Q1 session.
Ferrari’s Vettel set an early time of 1:23.891s and was immeditealy eclipsed by his teammate, Charles Leclerc but .5s. Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso then took top time with his first run but as we saw so many time last year, Lewis Hamilton quickly suppressed the field by taking top time on his first run. His teammate, Valtteri Bottas quickly eclipsed Hamilton by .023s.
All eyes were on Red Bull as Max Verstappen only managed 67h fastest on his first run and was pipped for 6th by his teammate, Pierre Gasly. Romain Grosjean jumped to 5th with his teammate Kevin Magnussen running wide on the final turn which bretayed just how quick those Haas F1 cars seem to be.
With 4 minutes left, Verstappen managed to jump up to third fastest and it was an important run for the Red Bull to suggest they did have the pace to run amongst the leaders. Languishing toward the back in testing and Friday’s practice session, Racing Point’s Sergio Perez jumped way up to 5th place which was a seriously signal to the midfield.
A flurry of last lap runs had the running order changing with every car that crossed the line. The Williams out of Q1 was perhaps no surprise but for Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz, this is not the way they wanted to start the season. Pierre needed a second run while Carlos was hampered by Robert Kubica’s cut tire incident. Carlos’s rookie teammate, Lando Norris, was through to Q2. The midfield is very tight, that’s what Q1 taught us.
Out in Q1- Kubica, Russell, Stroll, Gasly, Sainz
Lewis, Sebastian and Charles were first out in Q2 and did so on the Pirelli soft compound red-stripe tires. The track was 98 degrees and that was slowly cooling so perhaps these sift compounds would get hooked up for maximum grip.
Leclerc set the fastest initial run with a 1:21.739s but Lewis lost time behind slower cars. That time was eclipsed by Valtteri Bottas with a 1:21.241s. Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo was up to 5th with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas F1 in 6th on initial runs.
Max Verstappen pushing hard, wringing the neck of that Red Bull managed to get up to third on his initial try. With just 6 minutes left to run, both Toro Rosso’s were squarely in the elimination zone.
The field came out with 3 minutes to go in the session. Hamilton on fresh tires because the fastest time in this sessions means those are the tires you start the race on.
Hamilton up to the top with a new lap record with Bottas on his tail but perhaps the biggest shock is both Renault’s out in Q2. This is the team that was supposed to be best of the rest and that has to be a big question mark for Ricciardo who left Red Bull as Verstappen was third fastest.
Lando Norris brought his McLaren into Q3 and that’s great result for the team.
Out in Q2- Ricciardo, Albon, Kvyat, Giovinazzi, Hulkenberg
So this was it. A ragged last run in Q2 by Vettel suggests they aren’t there with Mercedes and the German was trying very hard to get the car up front. Perhaps a little too hard. Mercedes seemed to have things under control. Could either Ferrari make a dent in the Mercedes pace? It has been since 2007 since Ferrari took pole in Australia.
Lewis set initial time at 1:21.055s but that was eclipsed by putting in a new track record with a 1:20.598s. Vettel and Leclerc followed and were both 0.6 and 0.8s off pole respectively. Max, perhaps like Vettel, trying a little too hard ran wide on a scrappy lap and slotted 5th behind the Ferraris.
Both Haas cars in 6th and 7th with Grosjean leading Magnussen and McLaren’s Lando Norris in 8th. Both Magnussen and Norris over 2s off pole position.
For the final run, Lewis led Valtteri but Charles led Sebastian. Max Verstappen was the last car out for their final run with just 1:40s left in the session so he was under pressure to get across the line for his final attempt.
Lewis took top spot with a 1:20.486s lap with Bottas on this tail and Vettel in third. Leclerc was in 5th behind Max Verstappen. Valtteri had a terrific run and probably thought he’d get pole but just missed out.
What we learned:
What I have learned is that Mercedes sandbagged all during testing and you can’t believe a word they say with regards to their pace and development program. I have also learned that my assessment based on historic precedent was much more accurate than the F1 press who managed to place Ferrari ahead of Mercedes heading into the season. As a Ferrari fan, I would have been happy about that but as a student of F1, I knew that you can never count Mercedes out of anything.
Toto Wolff said that he thought the team’s qualifying pace was perhaps a bit of an outlier and he’s not sure about their overall race pace…I call BS. Remember, you can’t believe a word he says. They know the domination is actually not a positive for F1 right now so they play it down but the fact is, and I’ve said this since 2014, Mercedes has a baked in advantage with their engine and will do so until the regulations change.
That’s not taking anything away from Mercedes and the operation they’ve built, it is the envy of the paddock, but this season could be another Merc domination. I say that because unless the management shuffle at Ferrari delivers serious change, Mercedes pummeled Ferrari in the development war in 2018.
Qualifying is just that, qualifying. It is not a full race and there are lots of factors. If there is a positive for Ferrari, their race pace and tire wear looked good and we’ll see if that is equaled by Merc.
|4||Max Verstappen||Red Bull/Honda||1m21.320s||0.834s|
|9||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo/Ferrari||1m22.314s||1.828s|
|10||Sergio Perez||Racing Point/Mercedes||1m22.781s||2.295s|
|13||Alexander Albon||Toro Rosso/Honda||1m22.636s||–|
|14||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo/Ferrari||1m22.714s||–|
|15||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso/Honda||1m22.774s||–|
|16||Lance Stroll||Racing Point/Mercedes||1m23.017s||–|
|17||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull/Honda||1m23.020s||–|