Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

lauantai 19. maaliskuuta 2016

Australian GP / Qualifying: 50th career pole for Hamilton under the new system!

Finally the long wait is over and the 2016 F1 season is here at last! I looked forward to the season-opening qualifying with huge interest as the new elimination-style qualifying format was to be introduced. After FP3 I had high hopes of Ferrari being able to challenge the Silver Arrows for pole position as Sebastian had been only 2 tenths of a second down on Hamilton. I was thrilled to get up early in the morning to watch the qualifying live on TV. Oh how I´ve missed these Formula 1 weekends!

As expected, everyone rushed out on the red-marked super softs when Q1 got underway. Everyone wanted to set a competitive lap time as after seven minutes the current slowest car was going to be eliminated. Some drivers seemed to feel more pressure due to the new system than others. Rosberg for example went wide on his first run. After the first seven minutes Hamilton, Räikkönen and Verstappen were the fastest men on track. Manor´s rookie Pascal Wehrlein was the first driver to be eliminated soon followed by his teammate Haryanto. The Haas teammates Gutierrez and Grosjean would have made it into Q2 if only had they been sent out in time! The rules say that under the elimination process you have to set the lap time before the countdown clock halts. Only the final runner is halted by the chequered flag, not by the countdown clock. This caused some misunderstandings in some teams, like Haas and Sauber. Kvyat in his Red Bull was the fifth driver to be eliminated in Q1 and the Russian blamed poor tactics from Red Bull for his surprise exit. Both Sauber drivers were also out of Q2. At the end of the first segment Hamilton, Massa and Alonso were the top three drivers. Kimi was in P5 and Sebastian in P10.

Q2 saw everyone coming out on super softs again. This time the elimination process started after six minutes Renault´s Magnussen being the first driver to be eliminated. Hamilton, Rosberg and Massa were the three fastest at that point. Magnussen was soon followed by his teammate Palmer and the McLaren duo Button and Alonso were also out of the final session. Surprisingly Williams´ Bottas was the fifth driver to be eliminated! What I also found surprising was the fact that the Force India duo Hulkenberg and Perez didn´t even go out and try to improve their lap times and escape from the elimination although there was still time left in the clock. Instead they decided to save a set of tyres for tomorrow´s race. At the end of Q2 Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel were the three fastest. Toro Rosso caught everyone by surprise by getting both cars into the decisive final session!

I was expecting to see an entertaining and thrilling final session but to be honest, Q3 turned out to be quite of an anticlimax. Once again Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel were the top three when the elimination process started after five minutes´ running. Red Bull´s Ricciardo was the first faller in Q3. The Toro Rosso duo performed impressively indeed as Sainz qualified 7th and Verstappen as high as fifth! Toro Rosso outqualified their sister team Red Bull fair and square! The Toro Rosso drivers were split by Williams´ Massa, who qualified 4th. At this point Hamilton had the fastest lap time with Sebastian 2nd, Kimi 3rd and Rosberg down in P4. But when there were still 6 minutes left in the clock, Ferrari decided not to send their drivers out but to save tyres for tomorrow´s race! I would have wanted to see the red-suited drivers challenging the Mercedes duo for the front row grid slots, not to give up like this! What a disappointing and frustrating moment indeed! And there was no shoot out for pole at all as Rosberg was also in the pits when there were 2 minutes in the clock! So Hamilton took his 50th career pole with a 4-tenth margin over his teammate forcing Rosberg once again to settle for P2. Sebastian qualified 3rd 8 tenths down on Hamilton with his teammate Kimi 4th. To be honest, it was quite disappointing to see such clear a margin between Mercedes and Ferrari. The winter tests gave a good reason to believe Ferrari would have closed the gap to Mercedes for real.

So what are my thoughts on the new qualifying system? The first two segments were exciting but Q3 was very much the opposite to what I had been hoping for. Not to go out in the closing stages of the qualifying to fight for better positions but to sit out the final runs and save tyres for the race is not what you expect in the pinnacle of motorsports! Seeing Sebastian walking in the pit lane in jeans when qualifying is still running creates an image I don´t want to see. I want to see him on track at the wheel of his Margherita fighting for pole as I know he has a chance to beat the silver cars! To make this new qualifying format to work, the drivers should be given enough tyres so that they could fight for every position possible and not to concentrate on how many sets of tyres they have left.
I´m sure there will be plenty of talks about this new qualifying system in the coming days and I wouldn´t be surprised to see some changes during the season.

What am I expecting from the race then? I´m eager to see how the new restriction on the team radio communication will effect the race. Hamilton has talked a lot about this change. It´s also interesting to see what kind of a role the tyre choices will play and how well the drivers get the tyres to work. I hope Ferrari are much closer to Mercedes in race pace in spite of the qualifying results. I would really love to see a wheel-banging battle for victory between the red and silver cars. It´s also interesting to see how Toro Rosso´s race pace will turn out. Of course 1-2 for Ferrari with Verstappen third would be nice  ... ;) ;) Can´t wait for tomorrow!

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