Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

Kimi Räikkönen & Sebastian Vettel

lauantai 25. maaliskuuta 2017

Australian GP / Qualifying: Vettel in the front row alongside pole-setter Hamilton!

Finally the 2017 Formula 1 season with wider, heavier and faster cars is here! It was absolutely fantastic to wake up for the season-opening qualifying session. During the past few weeks I had eagerly looked forward to see, how much faster the new cars actually turn out due to the significant regulation changes. I had also looked forward to seeing the pink-liveried Force India on track. It has really caught my eye in a positive way. A pink Formula 1 car actually looks really cool!

As qualifying got underway at Albert Park, Ferrari stood out of the crowd in terms of the tyre strategy. The Italian-based team opted for a fresh set of super soft Pirellis, whereas the rest of the teams came out on the purple-marked ultra soft tyres. Sebastian set a competitive lap time already at the beginning of the first session, whereas teammate Kimi went wide twice on his first attempt. Therefore the Iceman had to come out again at the end of the session and make his second attempt on the ultra soft tyres. Hamilton topped the timesheets for Mercedes, which was no surprise. Kimi was second and Red Bull´s Verstappen third. Bottas, who had replaced the reigning world champion Rosberg at Mercedes, was 4th in Q1. McLaren´s problems continued in qualifying. Stoffel Vandoorne lost crucial time with a fuel pressure issue and didn´t make it into Q2. Surprisingly, Alonso was able to make it as high as P12, making it through to the second session.

The first faller in Q1 was Sauber´s Giovinazzi, who replaced Pascal Wehrlein at late notice. Wehrlein had suffered a back injury at the Race of Champions in December, which had prevented the German to train hard enough to be fit for the GP weekend. Renault, Haas and Williams shared differing fortunes in terms of the teammates. Hulkenberg was stunning fifth for Renault in Q1, whereas teammate Palmer was left last in the opening session. Grosjean made it easily into Q2; teammate Magnussen, on the other hand, was out of the second session. Massa was impressive 7th, but rookie teammate Stroll was left in P19. The Canadian is set to start last, however, due to a gear box change after his FP3 crash.

Q2 saw both Mercedes and Ferrari come out on the ultra soft Pirellis. The Finnish Mercedes ace Bottas went to the front in the second session. Teammate Hamilton was second, with only 36 thousandths of a second separating these two! Ferrari duo of Kimi and Sebastian were third and fourth. It seemed that Red Bull were a step behind Mercedes and Ferrari, as Ricciardo and Verstappen were left in P5 and P6. Williams´ Massa, Haas´ Grosjean and the Toro Rosso duo of Kvyat and Sainz completed the top ten. Force India´s Perez was the first of those left behind. I was a bit disappointed; I´d have wanted to see a pink car among the top ten!

Just to spice things up, some felt a few drops of rain, as Q3 was about to get underway. However, the conditions remained dry. Hamilton took provisional pole by three tenths of a second, with Sebastian second. Bottas was third, only two thousandths of a second down on Sebastian! Kimi still had difficulties to put together a decent lap; the Iceman had made a mistake in the first sector and was in P4. Local hero Ricciardo lost the rear of his RB13 in Turn 14 and ended up in the wall. That brought out the red flags with eight minutes of Q3 to go.

The battle for pole was exciting. Bottas managed to improve his lap time on the second run, before Hamilton once again dramatically undercut the Finn for pole. Sebastian lost a little in Turn 1 and pole-setter Hamilton ended up edging the German by a quarter of a second. However, Sebastian made it in the front row alongside the silver arrow! This means Ferrari will start a race from the front row for the first time since Singapore 2015! Bottas qualified 3rd, only two hundredths of a second behind Sebastian. Kimi´s second run left a little to hope for, and the Iceman qualified 4th, eight tenths of a second down on pole-setter Hamilton. So the two big teams shared the honours and set the stage for a great race. Red Bull´s Verstappen, who qualified 5th, was already 1,2 seconds off Hamilton´s pace, which was definitely more than I expected. Haas´ Grosjean was impressive 6th, and almost-retired Massa put Williams 7th, ahead of the Toro Rossos of Sainz and Kvyat.

In terms of performance, Mercedes and Ferrari seem very evenly matched. The battle for victory will be intense! The start will be crucial, especially due to the new regulations considering the clutch control. I´m sure Sebastian is extremely hungry for victory after the disappointing 2016 season. And I have a hunch, that Sebastian will shine at the wheel of his Gina this season! Probably there will be mistakes by drivers as well (hopefully not by the red-suited drivers!), such as Ricciardo´s spin in the qualifying today. The new cars have more downforce and more grip, but when it goes, it goes completely and there´s no time to correct it. So there might be some unexpected crashes tomorrow.

What do I think about this year´s new cars? I find them quite beautiful, in spite of all the talk about the shark fins and T wings. The increased speed makes them even more beautiful! And a tiny part of me wishes success for Force India -just because they have a pink car, which looks almost sexy and absolutely  stunning!

All in all, I definitely want to see smiling Sebastian standing on the top step of the podium at the end of the race! The perfect race result from my point of view would be a 1-2 for Ferrari!

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