Red Bull pilot Sebastian Vettel has taken his second pole of 2010, maintaining his 100% record thus far this season and edging out his team mate to the premier position for the start of tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix. Vettel’s penultimate lap of the session was simply stunning and the young German could have improved further still, a few moments in the final sector shedding a little from the stopwatch. Still fast enough for pole position though, Vettel was the first (and only) driver to dip below the 84s/lap mark.
Traffic would become the drivers frustration during the first part of qualifying, with 24 cars on track and Albert Park being significantly shorter than the season’s opening race in Bahrain a fortnight ago. With only 5.303km of track to contain the pilots, it was always going to be a case of finding the right moment to complete a clear tour of the lake. More often than before, drivers found themselves having to back off to create some space ahead them, but to only find the blue flags waving due to a car closing in from behind.
The new teams to Formula One appeared to be closer to the pace than in Bahrain, but this is largely down to the shorter lap. Lotus have managed to prove that not only are they reasonably reliable in comparison to their rivals, but also fairly fast with Heikki Kovalainen going P19 ahead of his team mate Jarno Trulli and the Virgin Racing duo of Timo Glock and Lucas Di Grassi while Hispania Racing hog the back row with Bruno Senna out-qualifying his team mate Karun Chandhok.
Vitaly Petrov failed to get through to the second part of qualifying, the Russian rookie switching places with Jaime Alguersuari and reversing the pair’s fortune from Sakhir. This led to Scuderia Toro Rosso getting both cars into Q2 for the first time this season, although neither driver would improve from this. Unfortunately for Algeursuari, he had given it his all in Q1 and could only improve his lap time by 0.006s. Conversely, team mate Sebastien Buemi had a little more speed up his sleeve and the Swiss pilot improved his time by 0.4s, placing him in a credible P12.
Once again Adrian Sutil found himself knocking on the door of Q3 and the although the Force India driver couldn’t improve on his Bahrain form, P10 is still encouraging for the Silverstone-based squad. Robert Kubica also fared similarly to a fortnight ago with another P9 while Rubens Barrichello was enjoying better form and qualified in P8.
Nico Rosberg once again got the better of team mate Michael Schumacher, and while the multiple world champion seemed pleased with his performance, Rosberg was notably downcast, suggesting to the media after qualifying that he could have gone faster had he not made an error on his final lap. The dynamic in the Mercedes garage is developing somewhat interestingly.
Ferrari suffered a slightly mixed bag in Australia with Fernando Alonso running well to claim P3 but Felipe Massa struggled to hook it all together and could only manage P5. The advantage went to Jenson Button who seemed a lot more comfortable in Albert Park and starts tomorrow’s race in P4.
The weather played an interesting role in qualifying, with clouds rolling in throughout the afternoon and resulted in slightly lower track temperatures than normal. Some drivers complained of differing tyre pressures and generally struggling to develop any heat in the rubber, while others seemed to be less concerned with the boots and more frustrated by the traffic. A light smattering of rain fell between the second and third sessions, but this didn’t affect performance on the track. With a similar forecast for tomorrow, we could see some precipitation disrupting play during the race.
Aside from a few spins and slides, qualifying didn’t really surprise with the exception of Lewis Hamilton failing to get through the second session. Jarno Trulli complained of his seat being broken, most likely the fixings that hold it in place. During his commentary for qualifying, Martin Brundle noted that he could hear the Red Bull RB6 of Webber skimming the ground, which strongly suggests the team are able to adjust their ride-height. This was further noted after the final session when Martin Whitmarsh of McLaren suggested the same and pointed out that although it seems to go against the rules, his team would be looking at developing an adjustable ride-height system for the future. More on this will be discussed in a separate post.