Sebastian Vettel (1:27.407) won pole for the 2013 Australian Grand Prix Sunday morning, after weather Saturday disrupted the normal F1 schedule. Teammate Mark Webber slotted in to make a Red Bull front row for the race, while Lewis Hamilton prevailed in the drying conditions for third fastest. Ferrari looks decently quicker than it did early in 2012, as Felipe Massa pipped Fernando Alonso by thousandths for the duo to start fourth and fifth.
Delays heaped upon delays Saturday, leaving Q1 run late and the final two thirds of qualifying for race day morning. Crashes and near misses marked the delayed Q1, with nearly every driver spinning or driving across the grass in the wet conditions. Hamilton and Massa had a couple of the most dramatic saves in Q1, even as the latter lost his front wing rather than damaging his suspension. Rosberg set the fastest time in Q1, a session that knocked out four of the five rookies. Only Valtteri Bottas moved on to Q2. That session on Sunday saw a couple of drivers attempt slicks, with times falling as the drivers dried the track. Getting out of Q2 was all about a fast lap in tricky conditions and getting across the line last for those with slower cars. Most of Q2, though, was a fight for fastest between Rosberg and Vettel.
Vettel seemed prepared to jumpstart 2013 with a fast Red Bull, leading both Friday sessions, but ran into hydraulic issues that were later said to be electrical that ended the rain-dampened final practice early for the German. Grosjean led that practice with an early time set during the dry. Not all drivers were so lucky, as several were unable to set fast times on Saturday. Massa, Alonso, Hamilton, and Webber completed the top five (covered by a half second) on Friday morning, a session marked by a few puffs of dust and di Resta spinning into the gravel at Turn 6 at the end of the session.
Webber, Rosberg, Raikkonen, and Grosjean joined Vettel in the top five on Friday afternoon. Hamilton managed seventh in his Mercedes as a splitter issues dropped him into the gravel near the end of the session on a faster lap. Teammate Rosberg suffered a gearbox failure moments later, ended the session rather ingloriously for Mercedes. Teams seemed more likely to push the new Pirellis in the second practice, as several spun and lost traction, including Webber.
As noted earlier, a few drivers managed to claim early quick laps before the rain fell Saturday morning, allowing Grosjean, Alonso, Massa, di Resta, and Raikkonen to take the top five honors. Hamilton set to slowest time of the session, even as the track began to dry out near the end. Vettel and Webber managed only twelfth and thirteenth fastest. A telemetry problem also marred the final practice, as drivers were unable to receive warning lights from race control, nor was RC able to deactivate DRS. RC required teams to deactivate that enhancement for the session, a measure soon negated by the rain. Still, most teams saved their inters for the possibility of a damp qualifying and/or race, leaving few conclusions available at the end of FP3.
Rain fell between FP3 and Q1, and continued to fall heavily as the first twenty minute session of qualifying began. Race Control disabled DRS for Q1, then delayed the start by ten minutes due to the wet conditions, then another ten minutes, then yet another ten. By the end of the thirty minutes, Hamilton and Rosberg were waiting for the green light at the end of pit lane. Quickly, all drivers but Massa and the Force Indias were onto the circuit. Most tiptoed through the conditions, all lining up for some air free of spray. Van der Garde rued his first F1 weekend, damaging the front wing and getting it caught up under the nose of his Caterham. Moments later, Hamilton pulled off to the side. He backed up to get clear of the grass after having lost it through the exit of Turn 1 and bumping his rear wing into the tyre barrier. He carried on without returning to the garage, but the team soon called him in, a message he seemed to ignore. van der Garde soon returned to the track after a front wing removal and change.
Halfway through the session, Rosberg (1:46.539) led Vergne, Vettel, Grosjean, Alonso, Gutierrez, di Resta, Massa, Hulkenberg, and Hamilton the top ten. Massa pitted with his own damaged front wing, spinning dramatically through Turn 10. Webber took a trip across the grass but continued on apparently undamaged. He had yet to set a time, nor had Bianchi or Chilton. Hamilton soon pipped up to third fastest as more drivers set times. Vergne had taken fastest from Rosberg as Mercedes told the latter to stop pushing and save his tyres.
With eight minutes remaining, van der Garde, Bottas, Pic, Maldonado, Chilton, and Bianchi were in the knockout zone, but Vettel (1:46.188) had just posted the fastest time of the session. Perez added his name to the list of spinners, barely keeping his car from sliding off onto the grass. Button and di Resta switched to inters, the first to do so, with just less than seven minutes to go. Maldonado had his own massive slide across the grass, but his Williams seemed unhurt.
Many drivers dove into the pits for inters with five to go, with Vettel still leading Vergne, as Ricciardo, Rosberg, and Raikkonen led the session. Van der Garde, Bottas, Pic, Maldonado, Bianchi, and Chilton all sat in the knockout zone. Button went fastest, then Massa slotted into second fastest, with the former a second faster than Vettel’s wet tyre time. Alonso was the next to go fastest, but the real worry came for those at the slow end of the field. As the seconds ticked down, Pic, then Gutierrez crashed and lost front wings. The former continued on, but the latter sat nearly sideways in the middle of the track. In the end, Rosberg (1:43.380) led Alonso, Grosjean, Perez, Webber, Massa, Vettel, Button, Vergne, and Raikkonen as the fastest ten.
Knocked Out in Q1:
17. Pastor Maldonado
18. Esteban Gutierrez
19. Jules Bianchi
20. Max Chilton
21. Giedo van der Garde
22. Charles Pic
Race Control delayed the start of the fifteen minute Q2 session by ten minutes as the rain began to fall heavily again as that session was to have begun, leading to a further twenty minute delay, then yet another twenty minutes. Charlie Whiting mentioned in an interview that while the delay was caused by the rain, clearing the debris from the Q1 crashes also required additional time. Moments before the session was to have started (fifty minutes after Q1 and nearing sunset with the sky very dark), race control announced that both Q2 and Q3 would be run race day morning.
Both Toro Rosso drivers lined up at the end of pit lane three complete minutes before the session began, as the team expected rain early in the session. Both Mercedes drivers soon joined them, Hamilton behind his new teammate. Half of the rest of the filed also lined up before the lights went green as the excitement of the morning grew. All drivers started the fifteen minute session on inters, even as the rain looked to be remaining in the clouds for the moment. Vergne’s first time was three tenths faster than his Q1 time from the day previously, though all the drivers behind him posted faster times. Rosberg (1:40.423) took the early lead, with Perez, Webber, Alonso, Button, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Massa, Hulkenberg, and Hamilton the fastest ten, five minutes into Q2,
Vettel sat then in the knockout zone after a trip across the grass, but times continued to shuffle and drop as the running cars siphoned water off the circuit. Vettel next went to the top of the timesheets after Alonso bettered Webber’s time. Only Vettel and Bottas wandered outside the bounds of the track at halfway, though Vettel (1:38.647) had the fastest time. Di Resta, Button, Sutil, Massa, Hulkenberg, and Bottas were in the knockout zone as the top ten continued to change places. Di Resta soon popped up to the bubble, but lost position as Button went second fastest, dropping Perez, Webber, di resta, Bottas, Ricciardo, and Sutil into relegation with six minutes remaining.
Rosberg then bettered Vettel’s time as teams and drivers wondered if it were time to switch to dry tyres. Alonso pitted with just over five minutes to go for fresh inters, after Perez had switched to slicks. The latter was quite slow in his first second sector, but McLaren pulled the trigger for slicks for Button as well. Perez did not complete his dry tyres lap and returned to the garage for a second set of slicks.
Vettel continued to improve and went back to fastest, but the real drama came from another slide through the grass from Button. Massa in eleventh spent quite a bit of time in boxed with three minutes remaining. Ricciardo, di Resta, Perez, Bottas, and Sutil had joined him in the relegation zone. At the top, Rosberg continued to wage a two-German battle for the fastest time in Q2, with Hamilton, Webber, Grosjean, Button, Alonso, Vergne, Raikkonen, and Hulkenberg the fastest ten with a minute and a half of projected dry running to go.
Alonso soon went second fastest, as Sutil moved himself up to seventh. Raikkonen began him final lap with 47 seconds remaining, as Massa began a final lap with thirty seconds to go. Di resta jumped out of the relegation zone with a final lap left to run, the last man to do so. Alonso had gone third fastest with his last lap, behind Rosberg and Hamilton. Webber soon went second fastest as Massa also moved up to fourth. He dropped a position as Button next went fourth fastest. In the end, Rosberg (1:36.194) set the fastest time, followed by Webber (+.4s), Hamilton, Button, Massa, Alonso, Vettel, di Resta, Raikkonen, and Grosjean as the men who moved on to the fight for pole.
Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Nico Hulkenberg
12. Adrian Sutil
13. Jean-Eric Vergne
14. Daniel Ricciardo
15. Sergio Perez
16. Valtteri Bottas
Rosberg led the way out for the ten minutes of Q3, followed by most of the ten drivers remaining. Hamilton immediately beat his teammate’s first time, with Webber, Alonso, Raikkonen, and Massa slotting in behind them. However, Vettel (1:32.604) put his stamp on a fast time, despite a bobble and wiggle at the end of his lap, going a full second faster than Hamilton. McLaren sent Button out on slicks for his own first lap, with five minutes gone.
The pits were hectic in the latter stages of Q3 as drivers dashed in to switch to slicks. However, things were not so keen for Raikkonen, who had to go into the garage, after having run over a jack on his first time leaving the garage in Q3. He rejoined with two minutes remaining, in what might just have been a bid for clear track space. Button (1:32.485) went fastest on his set of slicks, the first man to do so.
Hamilton looked set to pip his former teammate, which he did by well over two and a half seconds. Di Resta has his go at the top, only to have Massa slot between him and Hamilton. Alonso managed only sixth fastest on his first dry tyre lap, starting a final lap with twenty-five seconds remaining. Vettel took provisional pole, seconds before the flag flew. Webber slotted in just behind his teammate, with Hamilton unable to better either of the Red Bulls. Alonso improved to fourth, only to have Massa beat him by three thousandths. Rosberg, fastest all qualifying, could only managed sixth, while Button’s early tyre gamble and McLaren’s early slow pace left him tenth fastest.
Final Qualifying Times for the 2013 Australian Grand Prix:
Driver Team Time Laps 1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:27.407 27 2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:27.827 26 3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:28.087 29 4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:28.490 23 5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:28.493 26 6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:28.523 28 7. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:28.738 27 8. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:29.013 25 9. Paul di Resta Force India 1:29.305 23 10. Jenson Button McLaren 1:30.357 24 11. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:38.067 19 12. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:38.134 19 13. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:38.778 19 14. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:39.042 20 15. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:39.900 18 16. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:40.290 19 17. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:47.614 11 18. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:47.776 10 19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:48.147 11 20. Max Chilton Marussia 1:48.909 11 21. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:49.519 11 22. Charles Pic* Caterham 1:50.626 10