March 15th, 2014 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - The 2014 Formula One season has got off to the perfect start for Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, who secured pole position for tomorrow's Australian Grand Prix. Daniel Ricciardo delighted his home fans by qualifying second for Red Bull, ahead of the second Mercedes of Nico Rosberg.
Qualifying started in dry conditions, with all of the drivers barring Pastor Maldonado setting a dry lap time. Unfortunately for Maldonado, he had issues with his Lotus that necessitated a return to the pits early in the session, and shortly after he rejoined the track, it began to rain, which put paid to his chances of progressing to Q2. A couple of spins later and his qualifying session was effectively over. Lotus had a dismal qualifying session, as Romain Grosjean was also eliminated in Q1, although he did at least manage to set a lap time.
The other drivers eliminated in Q1 were Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi of Marussia, Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez and Caterham's Marcus Ericsson. On his return to Formula One, Kamui Kobayashi made it through to Q2 in his Caterham
Q2 was wet throughout, and started with most drivers on intermediate tyres. The track did dry a bit during the session, which saw the lap times falling until the end. The great surprise of the day was the elimination of Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in Q2. Vettel in particular has become a feature of Q3 sessions - it has been 27 races since he last failed to make Q3.
Kimi Raikkonen caused a yellow flag late in Q2 when he lost the back end of his Ferrari coming out of turn 3 and took his front wing off against the inside wall of the track. He was unable to continue, which ended his chances of participating in the top 10 shootout.
Q3 started wetter than Q2 had been, with most of the drivers going out on full wet tyres, with the exception of Fernando Alonso who chose to use intermediates instead. In the early part of Q3, rookies Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat joined Daniel Ricciardo in setting some impressive lap times. But ultimately it was Mercedes who had the pace for pole position. As the water on the track was dispersed by the tyres, Hamilton and Rosberg exchanged fastest lap times, with Ricciardo joining in every now and then.
Right at the end of the session, Rosberg crossed the line to register the quickest time seen thus far, but was beaten not too long after that by Ricciardo's Red Bull, to the delight of the Australian crowd. But right at the end of Q3, Lewis Hamilton delivered an even quicker lap to snatch pole position away from the home hero.
Kevin Magnussen was an impressive fourth for McLaren in his first F1 qualifying session. Fernando Alonso qualified fifth, ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso, Nico Hulkenberg's Force India and Daniil Kvyat in the second Toro Rosso. The Williams pair of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas completed the top ten, demonstrating that the fortunes of the Williams team have improved dramatically after their struggles in 2013.
Sunday's race promises to be thrilling, with some fresh faces starting high up on the grid and three World Champions starting 11th, 12th and 13th. At this stage it looks like Mercedes have the edge, but it is impossible to predict who will have the reliability to finish the race.
Full results from qualifying:
|2||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing||1:30.775||1:42.295||1:44.548||20|
|6||25||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:33.488||1:43.849||1:45.864||21|
|7||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:33.893||1:43.658||1:46.030||20|
|8||26||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:33.777||1:44.331||1:47.368||20|
|13||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing||1:31.931||1:44.668||13|
|16||11||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:34.141||1:47.293||13|
|22||13||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus||No time|
|Q1 107% Time||1:37.129|