Oz Qualifying: McLaren stun Red Bull
Hamilton and Button on front row as Vettel left trailing
Last Updated: 17/03/12 10:55am
McLaren have thrown down the gauntlet at the start of the 2012 season by claiming a 1-2 in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix with World Champions Red Bull left trailing in the wake of Lewis Hamilton's pole-sitting MP4-27.
In an utterly absorbing and unpredictable session in Melbourne, there was abject misery for Ferrari, proof positive from Lotus and Mercedes that they have joined the frontrunners and, most significantly of all, no answer from Red Bull to the revelation that the new McLaren contains a stunning turn of pace.
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"They were out of reach today," reflected Sebastian Vettel, with the World Champion demoted to a lowly sixth on the grid, and behind team-mate Mark Webber, having started every race but one during 2011 on the front row.
Indeed, it would be remiss not to immediately highlight that not only were the Red Bulls comprehensively beaten by McLaren's new charger, which now appears to be both pretty and pacey, but were also usurped by a late charge from Lotus' Romain Grosjean and may have finished far lower than fifth and sixth but for costly mistakes by Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen.
In Mercedes' controversial W03, Michael Schumacher recorded the best qualifying result of his comeback, and will line-up fourth on the grid unless Lotus' protest against the W03 is upheld.
Yet this was first and foremost McLaren's day. "This is only the beginning," triumphed Jenson Button, who, with good reason, seemed far more content with his second place than concerned that he had lost the first battle of the year to his team-mate. The truth is out there: McLaren have delivered a car clearly capable of winning the World Championship.
"They were mighty," observed Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle of the two McLarens, with Hamilton's fastest lap set on his first run in Q3. After all his well-publicised problems of 2011, the lap represented a stunning return to form for the 2008 World Champion and will have the bookies scrambling to reconsider their odds for the year ahead.
In an entirely unexpected early drama, Raikkonen was the high-profile early casualty from Q1, with the Finn falling at the first hurdle in his much-hyped return to F1. The Finn was made to pay for an off-road excursion around Turn Twelve and couldn't make it around to start a new lap before the chequered flag fell. The Lotus driver will start his comeback from 18th on the grid.
And the drama wasn't quelled for long with Q2 scarcely five minutes old before Fernando Alonso's day came to a premature - and visibly angry - end after the Spaniard dipped his wheels on to the grass approaching Turn One and beached his Ferrari.
"He had managed to keep the engine on, waiting for the marshals who did nothing," tweeted the Ferrari team.
Worse was to follow. With Fernando falling further and further down the charts, Felipe Massa - who only survived the Q1 cull due to Raikkonen's mistake - was conspicuously unable to save face for the team and when he aborted his final Q2 lap it was immediately confirmed that Ferrari had suffered the damning ignominy of failing to reach the final segment of the Saturday shoot-out with either of their two cars.
"We knew they were in trouble but we didn't know they were in that much trouble," observed a stunned Brundle from the Sky Sports commentary booth. And from Ferrari themselves, what will surely prove to be one of the understatements of the year: "12th and 16th...not really a good start of the season". Quite.
Yet for the nascent 2012 season, arguably the best possible start with Hamilton bouncing back to form, Mercedes and Lotus making true on their winter promise, and Red Bull, after two years of dominance, finally under pressure to answer back.
1) Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:24.922
2) Jenson Button McLaren 1:25.074 + 0.152
3)Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:25.302 + 0.380
4)Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:25.336 + 0.414
5. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:25.651 + 0.729
6) Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:25.668 + 0.746
7) Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:25.686 + 0.764
8) Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:25.908 + 0.986
9) Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:26.451 + 1.529
10) Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso No time
11) Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:26.429 + 0.960
12) Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:26.494 + 1.025
13) Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:26.590 + 1.121
14) Bruno Senna Williams 1:26.663 + 1.194
15) Paul di Resta Force India 1:27.086 + 1.617
16) Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:27.497 + 2.028
17) Sergio Perez Sauber No time
18) Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:27.758 + 1.576
19) Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:28.679 + 2.497
20) Vitaly Petrov Caterham1:29.018 + 2.836
21) Timo Glock Marussia 1:30.923 + 4.741
22) Charles Pic Marussia 1:31.670 + 5.488
23) Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1:33.495 + 7.313
24) Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1:33.643 + 7.461
* Please note: Drivers in positions 11-17, and 18-24, have their respective Q2 and Q1 times listed. Owing to the qualifying format, Q2 times can sometimes be faster than those set in Q3.