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2015 Australian GP Qualifying Report
By Bob Constanduros
Mercedes AMG Petronas driver Lewis Hamilton claimed a stunning pole position in the first Formula One™ qualifying session of the year in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon. In plummeting temperatures, the English driver blitzed the opposition - even his own teammate Nico Rosberg - by half a second. It was a remarkable performance by Hamilton for his third pole position since 2008 when he also won the race.
Rosberg had a couple of small problems on his way to second on the grid – his best position in the Australian Grand Prix and one place better than last year when he won the race itself. It’s hard to see anyone beating the Mercedes pair on performance in the race, although reliability could dictate otherwise.
Best of the rest was always going to be in contention, and after problems for Valtteri Bottas, it was his Williams-Mercedes teammate Felipe Massa who claimed the eventual third spot ahead of the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
The three free practice sessions had seen Mercedes fastest in each, Rosberg in both sessions on Friday and Hamilton on Saturday which reinforced their position as favourites for the season which they retain. The question remained: who would be their nearest challenger?
Williams have always been considered to be that challenger but Ferrari have looked very strong both in testing and at Melbourne. Raikkonen is much happier this year with a car that he finds much more comfortable than last year’s, particularly now that James Allison is Ferrari’s technical director – it was Allison who was in charge at Lotus when Raikkonen had such a good 2013 season. Vettel has settled in quickly at Ferrari and the pair make a formidable team.
Williams are in the mix but their old rivals of Ferrari will make things difficult for them. Felipe Massa missed most of Friday afternoon in Melbourne with a water leak but Valtteri Bottas looked competitive on a day when they are never trying to set times. The two young drivers at Scuderia Toro Rosso – Carlos Sainz and 17-year old Max Verstappen – looked very competitive too but a mistake by Verstappen meant that only Sainz made it into the top ten in qualifying.
At the other end of the scale, the two days of practice and qualifying were a nightmare for several teams. Red Bull Racing suffered an engine problem with Daniel Ricciardo on Friday and then both drivers had a troubled Saturday free practice session. Daniel, however, kept local hopes alive with seventh on the grid, but new teammate Daniil Kvyat didn’t get into the top ten shoot-out.
McLaren’s race debut was similarly troubled, with Fernando Alonso’s substitute Kevin Magnussen crashing out on Friday and neither he nor Jenson Button doing many laps as the team continued to struggle with the new Honda engine. Neither made it further than Q1, their worst qualifying for many years. They start at the back of the grid.
There were off-circuit problems for Sauber who had done so much mileage in pre-season testing but at least they fought back strongly once they did get on track, something which the Manor team never managed as they continued to prepare their cars for their season debut.
Massa would say that ‘Mercedes is in a category of its own.’ Rosberg admitted that he didn’t get it together in qualifying, but that he would have a chance of beating his teammate at the start and on tyre performance – he’s more sensitive than his teammate. Best of the rest will also be hard-fought but perhaps the battle has come down to Ferrari and Williams, with Daniel Ricciardo more an outsider now for Red Bull Racing. The new Lotus-Mercedes combination could also surprise, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado starting ninth and tenth. The first Grand Prix of the year is always fascinating. This one will be no different.
Bob Constanduros is the on-circuit commentator at most Grands Prix worldwide. After a career in motor sport journalism dating back to the late sixties, he was officially asked to provide English language commentary at Grands Prix in the mid-eighties and hasn’t missed a Grand Prix since 1985, totalling over 550 Grands Prix. Despite his Greek name, he was born in England and lives there, not far from the Goodwood circuit where he saw his first motor sport in the fifties. He has taken an interest and worked in all forms of motor sport from karting through rallying to sports and touring cars, and has commentated at every Singapore Grand Prix since the race began. He has worked in all forms of media, and still works for the FIA and FOM as well as individual race promoters.