After the struggles encountered over the winter, Brawn arrived in Melbourne like a team reborn. The free practice sessions showed the squad had good pace, and the times were all over the place with Ferrari and McLaren struggling for consistency. But after a spectacular opening qualifying session for the 2009 championship, it was Jenson Button who claimed the top spot, with team mate Rubens Barrichello dominating the other two runs and taking second place in the third and final stint.
Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix was always going to be interesting, but I don’t think many of us truly expected to witness what happened. The McLarens are no where, Ferrari don’t look particularly hot and the Brawns are on some kind of mission to go from the back row in 2008 to the front row in 2009. Here’s a quick run down of all the action in Melbourne…
First out of the box in Q1 was Giancarlo Fisichella of Force India, and although the Silverstone-based team have been residing on the back row since Eddie Jordan sold the squad a few years ago, 2009 looked to see some improvement. Fisichella’s first lap was down on pace, but as the session progressed, both Fisichella and team mate Adrian Sutil didn’t look too bad. Unfortunately, by the time the first twenty minute session was up, the pair had slipped back down the pecking order. Giancarlo managed P18, Sutil P19.
After Force India, it was Nico Rosberg’s go at setting a quick lap, and the pace from Free Practice was clearly no flash-in-the-pan. Rosberg immediately set about posting fast laps and all of a sudden commentators were looking at the FW31 and thinking it could be a pole position car. From seemingly no where in testing the Williams machine has come alive in Melbourne and in the hands of Rosberg, it was flying.
Later in Q1, team mate Kazuki Nakajima would also show that the second FW31 could fly as well. Q1 saw Nico end up in P7, Nakajima just 0.2s down. Q2 went even better for the German pilot, and Rosberg set the fourth quickest lap and just 0.002s shy of Sebastian Vettel in third. Unfortunately, Nakajima exited qualifying at this point with a P13 and 0.5s off the pace of his team mate. Nico eventually claimed fifth for Williams.
Red Bull Racing were another team that appeared to come out of no where as well. In Free Practice they didn’t look to be too sharp (P4 and P8 after P17 and P20), and the first runs set by Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel seemed to confirm this. But towards the end of the 20 minute Q1 session, Webber popped his Renault-powered car into third behind the Brawns, and Vettel managed went tenth.
In Q2, it was Vettel who lead the team, the German managing a fine third place, once again only being beaten by the Brawns. Webber wasn’t too far behind though and claimed sixth. For the final round of qualifying, Vettel kept a hold of his third and will line up on row two of the grid tomorrow. Webber could only get into tenth, but in all fairness the car weights are yet to be published and this could be the Red Bull team splitting the strategies between drivers. Both cars seem to have good pace though, so their race will be interesting.
Both BMWs looked quite poor on reflection. For a team that did so incredibly well in 2008, I was expecting more from Munich (and Hinwil). Nick Heidfeld left qualifying after Q2 and a P11, and Robert Kubica could only get his F1.09 into fourth. A mighty fine effort from the Polish driver, but the car just didn’t look to be hooked up. Credit where it is due though, Kubica has qualified ahead of both Ferraris and both McLarens, so if this was the squad’s goal, they’ve certainly achieved that. Although in reality, the BMWs should be closer to the front.
Toyota came good in the final session of qualifying, with both pilots making it into Q3. Again, I was expecting more from the Cologne-based team, but at least they have both drivers in the top-ten. Glock appeared to have the initial pace, going P4 in Q1; Jarno Trulli only got as high as P14 in the same session. The pair almost matched times in Q2, just 0.016s separated the two. In Q3, Glock asserted authority with P6, Trulli getting the P8 grid slot.
Ferrari were the final team to make it into the top-ten, but surprisingly they are not at the top of the tables. There were some very good laps from both Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, and in Q2 Raikkonen was especially quick at times. But the F60 isn’t quite hooked into the Albert Park circuit and Massa settled for P7 while Raikkonen ended his Saturday in P9. It isn’t the greatest of starts to the season for the reigning constructors champions, but they will surely improve during the race. If not, then it would seem that McLaren are not the only team to be suffering.
And speaking of McLaren; P14 and P15. Oh how the mighty have fallen. To his credit, Heikki Kovalainen was driving very well today in Australia. The Finn hardly put a foot wrong, but the best the MP4-24 could muster was the seventh row. Alongside Heikki will sit his team mate, Lewis Hamilton, who has endured one his worse qualifying performances. Towards the end of Q2, Hamilton was resting right at the top of the relegation group, but a last lap dash secured his position in the second round along with Kovalainen – a goofd effort from both.
As soon as the first session ended though, Hamilton’s car lost drive and the Briton was forced to sit out Q2. Hamilton suggested it could be a drivetrain issue, but it could also be a gearbox fault. The team are reporting that power was going to the ‘box, but not any further than that. If the gearbox has to be replaced, Hamilton will be docked five places, sending him to the back row of the grid.
Also disappointing in qualifying were Renault. The team hadn’t performed all that well in testing, but promised KERS for Australia and talked up their chances ahead of the race weekend. Fernando Alonso shone on a few laps during the three stints, but ultimately the Spaniard could only get into P12. Team mate Nelson Piquet Jr. had a relatively anonymous qualifying session and will start tomorrow’s race from P17.
And that just leaves Scuderia Toro Rosso, who managed expectation prior to this event and stated they wouldn’t be able to repeat their 2008 success. For the first race of the year, Sebastien Buemi – the only rookie in the field – will start from P16 while team mate Sebastien Bourdais will start from the very back in P20.
The team of the day though has to be Brawn. The effort to just get the cars to Melbourne is impressive, but to then plant them on the front row is monumental. This is Jenson Button’s fifth career pole and the Briton will be looking at converting it into his second career victory tomorrow afternoon. And to prove it isn’t a one-off lap, Button’s team mate Rubens Barrichello will sit alongside in P2. Barrichello dominated the first two sessions and finished the session in third, just 0.303s down.
The 2009 Australian Grand Prix qualifying session will be one to remember, but I think the race will be even better. F12009 is here, and boy is it exciting!
The full qualifying results can be viewed here: Australia 2009: Qualifying Result.