Lewis Hamilton has taken pole position for tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix thanks to magnificent lap in Melbourne. Aditya Bhat reports on all of the action in qualifying.
Following mixed weather conditions in FP3, the track dried out in time for qualifying. In Q1, we saw teams such as Sauber Alfa Romeo and Toro Rosso Honda struggling for pace, as expected. Williams joined the bottom tier too, as their young drivers Lance Stroll and rookie Sergey Sirotkin found it hard to break out of the bottom five.
As the chequered flag dropped for Q1, Stroll managed to hook up a lap time good enough to pull him out of the drop zone, while his Williams team-mate Sirotkin ended his first F1 qualifying session in P19. P20 and last was the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly with his team-mate Brendon Hartley just missing out on a spot in Q2 as he qualified P16. The Saubers, however, did better than expected. They weren’t last as Ericsson finished P17 out-qualifying his rookie team-mate and reigning F2 champion Charles Leclerc who qualified P18 on debut.
As Q2 rolled around, so did the clouds. There wasn’t an imminent threat of rain, but overcast conditions were back. The midfield battle looks to be a lot better and a lot tighter this season, as we saw teams like Renault and Haas having made a massive step up, with Force India staying stagnant, and thus, losing out. As a result, having barely made it out of Q1, the Force India cars weren’t going into Q3. Esteban Ocon ended Q2 in P15 and his team-mate Perez did a bit better but could only manage P13, with the Williams of Lance Stroll qualifying in P14.
The McLarens with their brand new Renault engines made it into Q2 with relative ease, however, making it into Q3 wasn’t going to be easy. Renault and Haas kept punching higher and higher, and ultimately knocked the McLaren cars out. Both Renault cars and both Haas cars made it into Q3 for the top ten shoot-out as we saw the McLarens of Fernando Alonso finishing qualifying in P11 and Stoffel Vandoorne in P12.
Q3, however, started off in a dreadful manner. Especially for one Valtteri Bottas, who coming out of Turn 1 on his first flying lap of the session was too early on the throttle on exit, lost control, and smashed his Mercedes into the wall at Turn 2, bringing an end to his qualifying and bringing out the red flag in the process.
Car recovered, debris cleared, and session resumed, the other nine cars set their first flying laps of Q3. With five minutes of the session to go following the first flying laps, Lewis Hamilton sat on provisional pole but only a meagre 0.03 seconds faster than the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel and not more than two tenths quicker than the following three cars.
The pace difference between the top teams was supposed to be close. And it was. Going into the last run in Q3, the top three cars were separated by a mere 0.06 seconds. But on the final run of the session, Lewis Hamilton shone through to produce an unreal qualifying lap that cemented him on pole position, 0.6 seconds faster than Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari in P2 and Sebastian Vettel in P3.
Verstappen shall start the race as the lead Red Bull having qualified in P4 and even though Daniel Ricciardo qualified P5, he shall take a 3 place grid penalty for tomorrow’s race for a red flag infringement in Friday practice.
Best of the rest, surprisingly, was the Haas of Kevin Magnussen qualifying in P6 as we saw both Haas cars and both Renaults having a splendid Saturday afternoon in Melbourne. Magnussen’s Haas team-mate Grosjean qualified P7, and the Renaults of Hulkenberg and Sainz qualified P8 and P9 respectively.
The grid is set then for the first race of the 2018 season tomorrow at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne. Will Lewis Hamilton run away with it or will Ferrari and Red Bull have the race pace to challenge him? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @EssaarGP.