2013 Australian GP Qualifying: Red Bull on top as Sebastian Vettel heads one-two
Lewis Hamilton third for Mercedes as Fernando Alonso struggles
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 17/03/13 1:49am
The Qualy top three: Hamilton and Webber flank polesitter Vettel
Ominous indeed. Led by their talisman Sebastian Vettel, World Champions Red Bull have claimed a front-row lockout for the season-opening Australian GP after dominating the final stages of Sunday morning's delayed qualifying session.
With McLaren's struggles with their revolutionary new car made abundantly clear, and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso a second off the pace, it was left to Mercedes new boy Lewis Hamilton to carry the fight to the mightily-impressive RB9. Scary would be another - perhaps more adequate - description of a car which appears to be in a different class to the rest of the 2013 contenders.
While Hamilton performance was every bit as impressive as Vettel's as the Silver Arrows debutant wrestled the W04 on to the second row alongside Alonso's Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa, neither Hamilton nor Mark Webber in the second Red Bull had an answer to the awesome pace of Vettel as the Albert Park track finally dried out and revealed the World Champion to be holding a formidable advantage.
Four tenths clear of Webber, six tenths up on Hamilton, a second away from Alonso, and a world beyond McLaren. Whatever way you look at them, the figures from the first qualifying session of the year look frighteningly emphatic for the prospects of Vettel securing a fourth successive title. Having kept their powder dry - and their fuel tank full - during winter testing, there is no longer any doubt that Red Bull have started the new campaign still in a class of their own.
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Forseeing a straightforward victory for Vettel in the race is an altogether different matter, however, with the weather in Melbourne displaying little indication to settle down and the threat of rain still forecast.
"I'll give everything I have," promised Hamilton. "It's going to be massively challenging with the tyres."
Indeed, the Red Bulls' superiority was anything but apparent when the second stage of Qualifying commenced early on Sunday morning in conditions which wouldn't have been out of place on a miserable April day in Britain.
At that nascent stage it was Mercedes and Nico Rosberg who shone out of the gloom with the German seeming to hold the upper hand on his new team-mate and Vettel even further adrift.
First appearances can, of course, be dangerously decepitve. Yet while the drying conditions revealed a completely different impression of the battle between Red Bull and Mercedes, the picture of McLaren remains consistently grim, with a lack of pace compounded by costly operational errors.
Sergio Perez suffered as the highest-profile casualty at the culmination of Qualy Two, the McLaren debutant consigned to fifteenth on the grid after the bold but reckless gamble in switching from the intermediate tyres for the supersofts spectacularly backfired to grassy effect. Team-mate Jenson Button, by contrast, managed to escape a double embarrassment for his under-pressure team after abandoning the errant experiment after just a couple of corners.
Yet not even Button's experience and tactical nouse could disguise the MP4-28's lack of speed in the Q3 shoot-out, with the 2009 World Champion reduced to tenth, three seconds off the pace after embarking on his fastest laps perhaps as much as two minutes early on a quickly-drying track.
Gambles may not be logical, but against this Red Bull - and a driver in this form - they may be the best answer available.