Sebastian Vettel led home-town hero Mark Webber to a Red Bull 1-2 in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix – but Lewis Hamilton became the first big-name casualty of the season by failing to make the pole shoot-out.
The young German set his best lap late in the final qualifying session to beat Webber after the Australian – who was fastest in final practice – made a small mistake in the middle sector of his fastest lap.
Afterwards Vettel was clearly pleased to have out-qualified the Australian at his home race while Webber was quick to point out that he’d done the same to the German last season, and won the race too.
“A great result for the team. It’s obviously Mark’s home race here – but he got pole in Germany, so it’s kind of a revenge,” laughed Vettel in the press conference afterwards. Some commentators, however, claim to have detected a little genuine needle behind the joking.
Behind them came Fernando Alonso for Ferrari, with Jenson Button flying the flag for McLaren ahead of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian has struggled through most of qualifying to get heat into his tyres before coming good in the final session.
The two Mercedes cars of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were next, the young German once again out-pacing the multiple world champion.
Hamilton, who had been fastest in Friday practice, seemed off-form in the second qualifying session and aborted his first attempt at a lap. He spent most of it last of the 17 remaining drivers before finally recording a decent lap.
But it was not enough to secure a place in the top 10 as other runners improved their times, and his last chance of setting a fast lap ended when he was called back into the garage because of low fuel. He qualified 11th, the first of the cars to avoid the requirement to start the race on his qualifying tyres.
He told the BBC later: “I wasn’t fast enough. I feel I got everything out of the car, I just really didn’t have any more grip out of the tyres. Unfortunate but we can still have a good race tomorrow hopefully.
“Basically my first run I got a lot of traffic so I wasn’t able to do a lap. So then I came in early, went back out early, and traffic was very difficult out there.
“I think with the weather, I don’t know if I got the right heat into the tyres or not – but Jenson is doing a good job at least.”
He was adamant that his run-in with the police the night before, when his car was impounded after he gave in to the temptations of boy-racerdom, had no been a factor: “It was something you learn from and I don’t think it has particularly affected today.”
His absence from the third qualifying session created an extra slot for the midfield teams, and Williams’ Rubens Barrichello joined the two drivers who’d advanced in Bahrain, Adrian Sutil of Force India and Robert Kubica of Renault.
Barrichello qualified eighth and will therefore line up next to his former team-mate Schumacher.
At the back of the field Kubica’s team-mate Vitaly Petrov was the unfortunate driver who joined the three new teams in failing to advance to Q2 after Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi puled himself out of trouble.
Petrov had looked to be on his way to safety in his final laps, but was caught out by a lurid slide. He did well to save the car, but his chance of reaching safety was gone.
Lotus earned the bragging rights among the new teams, taking the 19th and 20th slots ahead of Virgin. Hispania closed the gap on Virgin considerably but were still last.
Australian Grand Prix qualifying
Times shown are the fastest for each driver in the latest session in which he competed.
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 1:23.919 (Q3)
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:24.035 (Q3)
- Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: 1:24.111 (Q3)
- Jenson Button, McLaren: 1:24.675 (Q3)
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 1:24.837 (Q3)
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes: 1:24.884 (Q3)
- Michael Schumacher, Mercedes: 1:24.927 (Q3)
- Rubens Barrichello, Williams: 1:25.217 (Q3)
- Robert Kubica, Renault: 1:25.372 (Q3)
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:26.036 (Q3)
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:25.184 (Q2)
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1:25.638 (Q2)
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 1:25.743 (Q2)
- Pedro de la Rosa, BMW Sauber: 1:25.747 (Q2)
- Nico Hulkenberg, Williams: 1:25.748 (Q2)
- Kamui Kobayashi, BMW Sauber: 1:25.777 (Q2)
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 1:26.089 (Q2)
- Vitaly Petrov, Renault: 1:26.471 (Q1)
- Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus: 1:28.797 (Q1)
- Jarno Trulli, Lotus: 1:29.111 (Q1)
- Timo Glock, Virgin: 1:29.592 (Q1)
- Lucas di Grassi, Virgin: 1:30.185 (Q1)
- Bruno Senna, Hispania: 1:30.526 (Q1)
- Karun Chandhok, Hispania: 1:30.613 (Q1)