Monthly Archives: March 2013

Team orders are ugly and unpopular, but they have to be made – and obeyed

The use of team orders by more than one major team this weekend has left a sour taste with many F1 fans. The fanbase is divided – at Red Bull, there are those who feel Sebastian Vettel should have respected the order to hold position, and those who claim that he should race as hard as he could, regardless of the situation.

In the case of the Mercedes team orders, things are more clear-cut. Nico Rosberg passing fuel-saving Lewis Hamilton would have had no adverse affect on the team’s standing in the championship, and it was a more “pure” outcome – if they weren’t teammates, Rosberg would have passed Hamilton easily.

I fully agree with those who argue that Nico shouldn’t have been held up, and that he deserved to take the podium spot. However, the fact that he still obeyed team principal Ross Brawn shows a degree of respect within the team, something that is not apparent at Red Bull.

If another team orders debate arises at Red Bull, neither driver will think twice about ignoring such an instruction from the pit wall. This might be fun to watch, but it raises huge risks for the team, and can destroy any professional friendship between the drivers and/or their bosses. Sebastian and Mark would do well to avoid a repeat of Turkey 2010 in the future.

Whether the fans like it or not, Formula 1 is a team sport at heart, and the team should always come first. Ferrari understand this, having ironed out any hope of a rivalry between Alonso and Massa in recent years. Meanwhile, the current constructors’ champions are faced with dealing with two ego-fuelled rebels, who will now lock horns on-track at the first opportunity. It doesn’t take a genius to calculate that Ferrari’s system is more consistent and safe.

Vettel’s ignoring of his team’s instructions has unraveled any remaining friendliness between himself and Webber, that much is certain. Compare this to Rosberg’s choice, which has gained him respect within the team, and by Hamilton. If such an issue arises again, both drivers should be able to deal with it in a professional manner which benefits the team. Red Bull have no hope of this.

This isn’t about adrenaline-fueled glory runs, or brazen chest-bashing. It’s about understanding that the team is more important than the individual driver, and how sacrifices should be made for long-term benefits. If a three-time world champion can’t comprehend this, the Red Bull have a serious problem on their hands.

Vettel backstabs Webber to win the Malaysian Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel has won the Malaysian Grand Prix, but the fallout from today’s events will surely stain what was an impressive 1-2 victory for the Red Bull team.

Mark Webber led much of the race, but was instructed to dial down his engine in the final stint to save fuel and tyres. Vettel, who was close behind throughout the race, was instructed to hold position, but instead locked horns with his Red Bull teammate, and eventually came out victorious.

The podium ceremony was awkward to say the least, with Webber angrily quipping “Multi 21, Seb?” to his teammate beforehand. Mark was also seen gesticulating at Sebastian on-track during their battle.

Mercedes were embroiled in a similar battle, but both drivers decided to respect the team orders. Lewis Hamilton finished 3rd, and was struggling with low fuel with a few laps to go, but Nico Rosberg was blocked from battling his teammate. While clearly unhappy, the two drivers respected the situation to seal a good result for the Mercedes team.

Ferrari failed to capitalise on their excellent grid spots. Fernando Alonso tapped Vettel’s car on the opening lap, then crashed out a lap later after his front wing lodged under the nose during braking. Felipe Massa slipped back, but steadily fought his way back up to 5th position by the end.

Jenson Button was set to complete a great 5th place for McLaren, but a disastrous pit stop resulted in his front right wheel coming loose, and he dropped all the way down to 14th. Sergio Perez was forced to pit in the final laps, but still scraped a 9th-placed finish.

This article will be updated.

Malaysian Grand Prix qualifying: Vettel eases to pole, Raikkonen penalised

Sebastian Vettel has taken a comfortable pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix, in tricky conditions where rain fell halfway through the session.

Championship leader Kimi Raikkonen initially qualified 7th, but received a 3-place grid penalty for impeding Nico Rosberg. The Ferraris will start 2nd and 3rd, with Felipe Massa out-qualifying Fernando Alonso for the fourth race in a row.

Q1

Vettel came within almost 0.2 seconds of being knocked out of Q1. Himself, along with Mark Webber, showed little to no pace throughout the first part of qualifying, with the Australian only lying 11th, and Sebastian 15th.

There was an interesting split between drivers who were attempting to use the medium tyres to gain grid position, and those who were conserving them for the race. Adrian Sutil was one of the few drivers pushing hard in Q1, setting a 1:36.809 to finish fastest.

Jules Bianchi produced another impressive qualifying performance, coming within 0.5 seconds of getting into Q2. He beat teammate Max Chilton by over 1.2 seconds.

Drivers knocked out in Q1:

17) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:38.157

18) Valtteri Bottas – 1:38.207

19) Jules Bianchi – 1:38.434

20) Charles Pic – 1:39.314

21) Max Chilton – 1:39.672

22) Giedo van der Garde – 1:39.932

Q2

Paul di Resta was the first driver to go out on track, and was the first to pit – which was a mistake.

Rain fell about halfway through Q2, rendering half of the track unusable on slicks, and the other half bone dry. Intermediates were required, and Di Resta wasn’t able to set a fast time because of this. Despite this, he valiantly tried to go out again, but spun twice in the process.

Once again, the Red Bulls struggled, with Vettel only getting into Q3 by the skin of his teeth. Romain Grosjean was eliminated in Q2, as it emerged this weekend that the Frenchman is not receiving parts that are going onto teammate Raikkonen’s car.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11) Romain Grosjean – 1:37.636

12) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:38.125

13) Daniel Ricciardo – 1:38.822

14) Esteban Gutierrez – 1:39.221

15) Paul di Resta – 1:44.509

16) Pastor Maldonado – N/A

Q3

With the rain still falling, Q3 was busy from the offset, as teams feared the conditions would get worse the longer they waited.

This wasn’t the case though, and with several minutes to go, the track had dried to the point where drivers began to consider the slick tyres. Vettel pitted, but took on a fresh set of intermediates. His teammate stayed out, which backfired later on.

Webber briefly went fastest, but was quickly beaten by Lewis Hamilton, and then Fernando Alonso. There wasn’t enough time for him to get a new set of inters, and his current set were too worn for him to set another lap, so he fell to 5th place.

Vettel, meanwhile, went almost a second faster by going out on track at the right time. Raikkonen and Hamilton had one last chance to unseat the Red Bull, but couldn’t improve on their previous times. Felipe Massa then pipped his teammate to 2nd place, for the 4th race in a row.

Raikkonen finished the session 7th, but was demoted to 10th after he was judged to have held up Nico Rosberg near the end of Q3.

Times from Q3:

1) Sebastian Vettel – 1:49.674

2) Felipe Massa – 1:50.587

3) Fernando Alonso – 1:50.727

4) Lewis Hamilton – 1:51.699

5) Mark Webber – 1:52.244

6) Nico Rosberg – 1:52.519

7) Jenson Button – 1:53.175

8) Adrian Sutil – 1:53.439

9) Sergio Perez – 1:54.136

10) Kimi Raikkonen (+3) – 1:52.970

 

 

Malaysian Grand Prix practice: Rain threatens proceedings as Raikkonen continues to lead

Kimi Raikkonen topped the timesheets for today’s practice sessions for the Malaysian Grand Prix, but the local weather is already causing a storm. After FP2 was disrupted by heavy rain, there are fears that the local thunderstorms may hit the circuit during tomorrow’s qualifying and the race.

Regardless, the field is tightly bunched at the front at the moment. Here’s what happened today:

First practice

It was another slow start to this weekend’s racing, as it took until the half hour mark for anyone to set a lap time.

Australian GP race winner Kimi Raikkonen had a delayed start to his weekend – a KERS fault meant that he was stuck in the pits longer than anyone else. He eventually finished the session 0.06 seconds off the leader.

The Red Bulls continued to demonstrate their excellent one-lap pace, with both Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel leading FP1 at certain points. It was Webber who was to set the fastest time, a 1:36.935 leaving him over a tenth of a second ahead of his teammate.

Lap times dropped off towards the end of the session, as it became clear that the hard tyres were only lasting around 20 laps.

The only major drama was when Esteban Gutierrez spun off, carrying too much speed into Turn 14.

Pos  Driver               Team                  Time       Gap       Laps
 1.  Mark Webber          Red Bull-Renault      1:36.935            15
 2.  Kimi Raikkonen       Lotus-Renault         1:37.003  + 0.068s  15
 3.  Sebastian Vettel     Red Bull-Renault      1:37.104  + 0.169s  21
 4.  Fernando Alonso      Ferrari               1:37.319  + 0.384s  13
 5.  Nico Rosberg         Mercedes              1:37.588  + 0.653s  19
 6.  Adrian Sutil         Force India-Mercedes  1:37.769  + 0.834s  17
 7.  Felipe Massa         Ferrari               1:37.771  + 0.836s  15
 8.  Paul di Resta        Force India-Mercedes  1:37.773  + 0.838s  15
 9.  Lewis Hamilton       Mercedes              1:37.840  + 0.905s  18
10.  Romain Grosjean      Lotus-Renault         1:37.915  + 0.980s  17
11.  Jenson Button        McLaren-Mercedes      1:38.173  + 1.238s  16
12.  Pastor Maldonado     Williams-Renault      1:38.673  + 1.738s  16
13.  Sergio Perez         McLaren-Mercedes      1:38.830  + 1.895s  17
14.  Nico Hulkenberg      Sauber-Ferrari        1:39.054  + 2.119s  17
15.  Esteban Gutierrez    Sauber-Ferrari        1:39.204  + 2.269s  16
16.  Valtteri Bottas      Williams-Renault      1:39.208  + 2.273s  19
17.  Jean-Eric Vergne     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:39.284  + 2.349s  17
18.  Daniel Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:39.567  + 2.632s  16
19.  Giedo van der Garde  Caterham-Renault      1:40.728  + 3.793s  17
20.  Jules Bianchi        Marussia-Cosworth     1:40.996  + 4.061s  14
21.  Charles Pic          Caterham-Renault      1:41.163  + 4.228s  18
22.  Max Chilton          Marussia-Cosworth     1:41.513  + 4.578s  14

Second practice

It was Raikkonen who set the fastest time in FP2 on the medium tyres, but by only 0.4 seconds compared to Webber’s time in FP1.

Rain was expected from the off, so many drivers took to the track immediately in order to maximise running. As expected, the rain fell early on, and it increased in strength at around the halfway mark. A spin by Nico Hulkenberg on his in lap demonstrated how treacherous the conditions were.

Drivers soon tip-toed out onto the track soon after, but spins marred several drivers’ sessions. Sergio Perez, Giedo van der Garde and Romain Grosjean all had off-track excursions on the intermediate tyres.

The track dried out sufficiently for slicks with 10 minutes to go, but nobody was able to improve on Raikkonen’s earlier time. Sebastian Vettel was within 0.016 seconds of the Lotus, with Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso 3rd and 4th.

The McLarens showed no signs of improvement from Australia, finishing Friday 11th and 12th. Further back, Jules Bianchi was able to set a lap 0.152 seconds faster than the Williams of Valtteri Bottas.

Pos Driver                Team                    Time       Gap      Laps
 1. Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault           1:36.569            28
 2. Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault        1:36.588  + 0.019s  27
 3. Felipe Massa          Ferrari                 1:36.661  + 0.092s  33
 4. Fernando Alonso       Ferrari                 1:36.985  + 0.416s  23
 5. Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault        1:37.026  + 0.457s  29
 6. Romain Grosjean       Lotus Renault           1:37.206  + 0.637s  26
 7. Nico Rosberg          Mercedes                1:37.448  + 0.879s  32
 8. Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes    1:37.571  + 1.002s  30
 9. Lewis Hamilton        Mercedes                1:37.574  + 1.005s  32
10. Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes    1:37.788  + 1.219s  10
11. Sergio Perez          McLaren-Mercedes        1:37.838  + 1.269s  21
12. Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes        1:37.865  + 1.296s  29
13. Nico Hulkenberg       Sauber-Ferrari          1:38.068  + 1.499s  31
14. Esteban Gutierrez     Sauber-Ferrari          1:38.645  + 2.076s  23
15. Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:38.738  + 2.169s  31
16. Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault        1:38.801  + 2.232s  27
17. Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:38.904  + 2.335s  31
18. Jules Bianchi         Marussia-Cosworth       1:39.508  + 2.939s  30
19. Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Renault        1:39.660  + 3.091s  28
20. Charles Pic           Caterham-Renault        1:40.757  + 4.188s  29
21. Giedo van der Garde   Caterham-Renault        1:40.768  + 4.199s  32
22. Max Chilton           Marussia-Cosworth       1:41.438  + 4.869s  23

Australian Grand Prix team analysis: Lotus prove importance of strategic racing

The 2013 season has kicked off with a bang, and already it’s looking good – no one team holds a decisive advantage over the other.

Raikkonen’s victory today was assisted by excellent strategic calls in the pit lane, showing how absolutely crucial tyre management will be in 2013. Let’s have a look at how each team managed in Melbourne:

Lotus

With no response from their rivals after the final set of stops, it is already clear that long distance race pace is Lotus’ strong point. Tyre conservation appears to be particularly manageable, as Kimi completed a 25-lap stint on the mediums without much difficulty.

Their qualifying pace requires work, though. A fourth row lockout may have been enough today, but in future races they will not have the opportunities like they did in Melbourne.

Raikkonen was calm and relaxed as always, and he is now a sure-fire contender for the championship. Grosjean, on the other hand, I’m not sure about. He reported possible damage to his car, but even still he never was close to his teammate’s pace.

Ferrari

The F2013 is eons ahead of the F2012, which is the most important thing for the Scuderia. With Alonso on top form, and Massa resurgent, Ferrari are possibly the biggest threat in both championships.

A smart call to pit early by Alonso allowed him to leapfrog Vettel, giving him his best shot at victory. Massa opted not to follow suit, and paid the price, although you could argue that he should have been able to make the call himself as well.

Nevertheless, both drivers performed very well, and Ferrari now have one of the most solid packages on the grid.

Red Bull

What looked to be a complete domination today failed to materialise, and instead Sebastian Vettel is now slightly on the back foot.

However, a podium finish is enough at the moment, and Red Bull can now stand back and analyse how to repond to Lotus’ and Ferrari’s pace. One issue that needs to be solved is the RB8′s heavy tyre wear, a factor that lost Sebastian a place to Alonso during today’s race.

Webber, meanwhile, had absolutely no impact on the race, and proved once again why he has been unable to win a title.

Mercedes

Clearly playing down their chances over the winter, Mercedes aren’t in the worst position at the moment. A storming performance from Rosberg in Q1, as well as Hamilton’s great race pace, is enough to show the team’s potential.

Tyre conservation is a valuable asset, with both drivers managing more than double the amount of laps on the super-softs than the Red Bulls. Raw pace is lacking, and it will remain to be seen can the team finally keep up in the development race.

Force India

Adrian Sutil’s commendable drive today showed that Force India were not wrong to re-sign the German. He led the race twice, and managed to pull away from Vettel on older tyres – a feat that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Paul di Resta, though, is now under pressure. Having failed to match his teammate’s pace across 90% of the Grand Prix, he will now have to deflect claims that he is only an average-grade driver.

The VJM06 is the perfect tool for him to do it though, as it threatens to worry the big boys at the front.

McLaren

The loss of several high-profile figures over the winter hurt McLaren badly. And with the level of competitiveness at the front, they may struggle to ascend up the order.

Sergio Perez performed decently on his first race for the team, and was able to keep close to Button’s pace. However, it doesn’t mask the fact that the MP4-28 is grossly uncompetitive, and the squad may even look to 2014 to bring the team back to the top.

Toro Rosso

Excellent qualifying performances by both drivers in Q1 was encouraging form. While it failed to materialise into points, the team look more competitive than last year, at least.

Jean-Eric Vergne finished within half a second of Perez’s McLaren at the finish, which is enough to indicate how much the field has changed since 2012. Without a flat-spotted tyre earlier in the race, he could have even challenged Romain Grosjean for a points-scoring place.

Sauber

The plucky underdogs received no luck in Melbourne, with star driver Hulkenberg out before the race even began.

After that, it was up to debutant Esteban Gutierrez to entertain any hopes of a good finish, but it wasn’t to be. Still, 13th place on his first ever F1 race isn’t too bad, so we’ll see how the Sauber really fares next weekend.

Williams

It’s the same story 95% of the time at Williams – full of talk about how much they’ve improved, only to be miles off the pace as usual.

Valtteri Bottas was the last of the midfield drivers to be classified, while a spin for Maldonado ended his race early. How the car actually fares against Sauber and Toro Rosso we don’t know yet, but it’s not looking good.

Marussia

Encouraging news for the struggling team after a topsy-turvy winter – they have made good gains on the midfield, and appear to be outperforming Caterham for the first time ever.

Jules Bianchi is also a hugely impressive driver, leaping up to 13th briefly at the start, and utterly thrashing teammate Max Chilton. I wouldn’t be so bold as to predict a points finish for the Frenchman, but I’d sure as hell imply it.

Caterham

Meanwhile, Caterham are down in the doldrums, with an underperforming car, and neither driver looking like they can match Bianchi at the moment.

Charles Pic performed decently today, but Giedo van der Garde is still an unknown, as I think his pace was masked with his battle against Chilton. Nevertheless, it looks to be another depressingly poor season for the fledgling team.

Points standings after Australian Grand Prix

Driver Standings

Driver Points
1 Kimi Raikkonen 25
2 Fernando Alonso 18
3 Sebastian Vettel 15
4 Felipe Massa 12
5 Lewis Hamilton 10
6 Mark Webber 8
7 Adrian Sutil 6
8 Paul di Resta 4
9 Jenson Button 2
10 Romain Grosjean 1
11 Sergio Perez 0
12 Jean-Eric Vergne 0
13 Esteban Gutierrez 0
14 Valtteri Bottas 0
15 Jules Bianchi 0
16 Charles Pic 0
17 Max Chilton 0
18 Giedo van der Garde 0
19 Nico Rosberg 0
20 Pastor Maldonado  0
21 Daniel Ricciardo  0
22 Nico Hulkenberg  0

Constructor Standings

Team Points
1 Ferrari 30
2 Lotus-Renault 26
3 Red Bull-Renault 23
4 Mercedes 10
5 Force India-Mercedes 10
6 McLaren-Mercedes 2
7 Toro Rosso-Ferrari 0
8 Sauber-Ferrari 0
9 Williams-Renault 0
10 Marussia-Cosworth 0
11 Caterham-Renault 0

Raikkonen takes surprise triumph in Melbourne thriller

Kimi Raikkonen has taken the first victory of the 2013 Formula 1 season, employing a stellar strategy to sneak ahead of the rest of the field.

Pole sitter Sebastian Vettel struggled for pace slightly, and could only manage 3rd position. Ferrari confirmed their excellent race pace with 2nd and 4th for Alonso and Massa, while Lewis Hamilton and Adrian Sutil put in brave drives for their teams. Here’s the breakdown of what happened:

A typical Webber start

At the start, Mark Webber made yet another disastrous start, falling to 9th by the end of the first lap. The Ferraris stormed past Webber and Hamilton, with Massa fending off Alonso for 2nd.

Having qualified a brilliant 3rd, Lewis began to slip down the order. First he was passed by Massa and Alonso, then he came under huge pressure from Kimi Raikkonen, to which he succumbed to on Lap 2. Amazingly, Jules Bianchi in the Marussia had a storming start, and managed to get up to 13th before burning out his first set of tyres.

Jenson Button, predictably, was the first to pit for new tyres, seeing as the McLaren had shredded his super-softs in Q3 earlier. Webber followed suit, and it quickly became clear that the Red Bulls were struggling to control their tyre wear.

By Lap 6, Vettel’s typical “first lap advantage” had run out, and both Massa and Alonso were breathing down his neck. Raikkonen, having dispatched of the Mercedes, was the quickest of the 4 of them, and soon joined the action up front.

Resurgent Sutil

Vettel removed his super-softs on Lap 8, with Massa, Alonso and Raikkonen pitting soon after. This left the Mercedes drivers briefly out in front, who had opted to stay out on the options for longer than anyone else.

Adrian Sutil found himself at the front of the pack, having started on the medium tyres. More impressively, he was capable of holding off Vettel lap after lap, and even began to pull away from the Red Bull.

Sebastian seemed unable to pull the maximum out of the medium tyres, and Alonso made his second pit stop in response, having been backed up by both the Red Bull and Massa. Sutil and Vettel pitted on Lap 21, and the world champion exited the pits behind Fernando, his sudden change in strategy now paying diviends.

Despite his initial pace, Massa was caught unawares by this development, and fell away from the frontrunners after his second stop. Vettel improved on his new set of rubber, diving past Sutil at Turn 3.

Approaching the halfway mark, Pastor Maldonado became the first retirement of the day, touching the grass in the braking zone of Turn 1 and spinning into the gravel.

Mercedes’ strategy falls apart

Up at the front, Hamilton and Rosberg again found themselves ahead of the leaders, being on a different strategy. Nico was running as high as 3rd, but an electrical problem forced him to pull over and retire.

Light rain soon began to fall around Albert Park, making conditions even trickier. Raikkonen now led Hamilton, neither of them having made their second stop, while the 3-stopping Alonso soon began to catch the Mercedes.

On Lap 31, after spending a few laps staring at the Mercedes’ rear wing, Alonso took advanateg of a lock-up at Turn 12, and swept past Hamilton for 2nd place. Lewis pitted soon after, and it became apparent that his attempt at a 2-stop had failed.

Once the final set of stops were over and done with, Raikkonen was now in control of the Grand Prix, holding a solid 6 second lead over Fernando Alonso. Vettel and Massa both overtook Hamilton for 3rd and 4th, whose slower car was now restraining his efforts.

Sutil led the race briefly again, but began to sharply drop back on his final set of tyres. With the Force India out of contention, the focus switched back to the front, where Alonso was doing his absolute best to reel in Raikkonen.

A tense finish

Having fallen to as little as 4 seconds during the stops, Kimi was able to bring the gap back up to 7 seconds once he put his foot down. However, Fernando remained vigilant, knowing that his tyres were 5 laps newer than the Lotus’.

Adrian Sutil slipped away from the frontrunners, even on the super-soft tyres, and was even reeled in by teammate Paul di Resta, who had a very quiet race in 8th place. The Force Indias were within a second of each other with a few laps to go, but Di Resta was ordered to hold position until the end.

McLaren knew they would have a difficult race, and a 9th placed finish by Button was acceptable considering how poor qualifying was. Sergio Perez was resurgent towards the end of the race, but was unable to pass Romain Grosjean for 10th on the final lap.

Holding the 6-second gap until the end, Raikkonen cruised to his first victory of the season, his superior strategy and speed proving to be unmatched. Alonso and Vettel joined him on the podium, while Massa and Hamilton slipped away in the final stint.

Red Bull’s “domination” clearly failed to materialise, and the 2013 season looks to be just as closely-fought as 2012. The Malsyaian Grand Prix can’t arrive quickly enough.

Vettel heads Red Bull lockout, Hamilton shines in Australia qualifying

After a 16-hour delay, qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix finally got underway, with Sebastian Vettel taking a comfortable pole position, 0.4 seconds ahead of Mark Webber.

However, the star of the day was undoubtedly Lewis Hamilton, who excelled in his new Mercedes role to take 3rd position. Teammate Nico Rosberg initially impressed in the damp Q2 session, but fell away as the session progressed.

Here is what happened across the 30-minute session:

Q2

Similar to yesterday’s qualifying, Nico Rosberg was immediately fast, remaining at the top of the timesheets for the majority of Q2. Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton all went head-to-head, each of them improving across the 15 minute session.

The track was still damp from rain earlier that morning, which gradually dried out. With several minutes to go, McLaren made a brave call, and switched both Button and Perez to the slick tyres. It failed to pay off, with both cars sliding off on their first laps. Jenson immediately pitted, while Sergio struggled on, and finished 15th.

Button recovered from his poor call, and snatched 4th on a new set of intermediates.

Drivers knocked out of Q2:

11) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:38.067

12) Adrian Sutil – 1:38.134

13) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:38.778

14) Daniel Ricciardo – 1:39.042

15) Sergio Perez – 1:39.900

16) Valtteri Bottas – 1:40.290

Q3

While the Red Bulls, Ferraris and Mercedes drivers exited the pits on intermediates, the other remaining drivers waited in the pits, in anticipation of the the track drying out further.

This occurred with 5 minutes to go, and the frontrunners were forced to scramble back to the pits for the super-softs.

Quickly enough, the times began to tumble. Button, Hamilton and then Vettel lowered the fastest time by huge margins, with Vettel eventually setting a 1:27.407 on his second last attempt.

Mark Webber was in with a shot of pipping his team-mate, but his terrible home form continued, with the Aussie making a mistake in the final sector and dropping 4 tenths.

The Ferraris slotted into 4th and 5th, with Massa just getting ahead of Alonso. Hamilton hugely impressed with 3rd, while Nico Rosberg was forced to settle for 6th place.

None of them were able to unseat Vettel at the front though, and he starts the 2013 season in a commanding position.

Times from Q3:

1) Sebastian Vettel – 1:27.407

2) Mark Webber – 1:27.827

3) Lewis Hamilton – 1:28.087

4) Felipe Massa – 1:28.490

5) Fernando Alonso – 1:28.493

6) Nico Rosberg – 1:28.523

7) Kimi Raikkonen – 1:28.738

8) Romain Grosjean – 1:29.013

9) Paul di Resta – 1:29.305

10) Jenson Button – 1:30.357

Melbourne qualifying descends into farce – Q2 and Q3 postponed until Sunday morning

The 2013 Formula 1 season has suffered a stunted start, as the final two sections of qualifying have been pushed back to Sunday morning because of heavy rainfall in Melbourne.

However, it was not just an open-and-shut case. Today’s qualifying session was underway for two hours, but the cars only left the garages for 20 minutes in total. The session was delayed no less than 6 times, and eventually a lack of sunlight forced the session to end.

Q2 and Q3 will take place at 11:00 local time (midnight UK time), with the race taking place 6 hours afterwards.

Q1 did eventually take place, with several drivers crashing during the session. Giedo van der Garde, Felipe Massa, Esteban Gutierrez and Charles Pic all lost their front wings, while Lewis Hamilton spun into the barriers at Turn 2 and damaged his rear wing.

Drivers knocked out of Q1:

17) Pastor Maldonado – 1:47.614

18) Esteban Gutierrez – 1:47.776

19) Jules Bianchi – 1:48.147

20) Max Chilton – 1:48.909

21) Giedo van der Garde – 1:49.519

22) Charles Pic – 1:50.526

 

Australian GP practice times: Red Bull lead, McLaren stuck in the midfield

With the first two practice sessions for the 2013 F1 season out of the way, the order of the grid is becoming more clear. It is apparent that Red Bull haven’t lost much track over the winter, topping both FP1 and FP2, although Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes are showing interesting flashes of pace.

However, the big news is over at McLaren, who have suffered a shocking start to their 2013 campaign. Over 2 seconds slower by the end of second practice, team principal Martin Whitmarsh called it “one of the hardest days” he’d done in the team.

Let’s have a look at what happened this morning:

First practice

A traditionally slow start heralded the beginning of the 2013 season, as teams were hardly eager to start testing on a “green” surface. Daniel Ricciardo set the first proper lap with half an hour completed, which got the ball rolling nicely for the rest of the drivers.

Kimi Raikkonen led much of the early running, setting a 1:27.8 to comfortably move ahead at the front.

As the frontline teams moved out of the garage, it became clear that Mercedes had made progress over the winter, with both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg setting threatening times. The Ferraris were showing decent pace, with both drivers lapping at the top on the medium tyres.

When Sebastian Vettel left the pits, he made an impact within several laps, going fastest at only his second attempt. Felipe Massa tried to re-take the top spot soon after, but a mistake at Turn 5 – like many other drivers on Friday – put an end to that.

Mark Webber was unable to do as well as his teammate, reporting unusually high rear tyre wear towards the end of the session.

Times:

Pos. Driver               Team                  Time       Gap      Laps
 1.  Sebastian Vettel     Red Bull-Renault      1:27.211            16
 2.  Felipe Massa         Ferrari               1:27.289  + 0.078s  17
 3.  Fernando Alonso      Ferrari               1:27.547  + 0.336s  16
 4.  Lewis Hamilton       Mercedes              1:27.552  + 0.341s  18
 5.  Mark Webber          Red Bull-Renault      1:27.668  + 0.457s  18
 6.  Kimi Raikkonen       Lotus-Renault         1:27.877  + 0.666s  17
 7.  Nico Rosberg         Mercedes              1:28.013  + 0.802s  17
 8.  Adrian Sutil         Force India-Mercedes  1:28.426  + 1.215s  19
 9.  Jenson Button        McLaren-Mercedes      1:28.440  + 1.229s  19
10.  Romain Grosjean      Lotus-Renault         1:28.520  + 1.309s  15
11.  Sergio Perez         McLaren-Mercedes      1:28.597  + 1.386s  19
12.  Nico Hulkenberg      Sauber-Ferrari        1:28.786  + 1.575s  19
13.  Paul di Resta        Force India-Mercedes  1:28.910  + 1.699s  18
14.  Pastor Maldonado     Williams-Renault      1:29.443  + 2.232s  20
15.  Valtteri Bottas      Williams-Renault      1:29.928  + 2.717s  19
16.  Esteban Gutierrez    Sauber-Ferrari        1:30.203  + 2.992s  17
17.  Jean-Eric Vergne     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:30.729  + 3.518s  17
18.  Daniel Ricciardo     Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:30.969  + 3.758s  19
19.  Jules Bianchi        Marussia-Cosworth     1:31.263  + 4.052s  24
20.  Max Chilton          Marussia-Cosworth     1:32.176  + 4.965s  23
21.  Charles Pic          Caterham-Renault      1:32.274  + 5.063s  21
22.  Giedo van der Garde  Caterham-Renault      1:32.388  + 5.177s  18

Second practice

Being over a second off the pace in first practice, McLaren’s day got even worse in FP2, with team leader Jenson Button being a shocking 2.3 seconds off the Red Bull’s times.

Lotus were particularly consistent, with Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean taking 4th and 5th, with Nico Rosberg behind the two Red Bulls at the front. Ferrari had less pace on the super-soft tyre, and coupled with Massa’s KERS issue, it meant that they weren’t as fast near the end of the day.

With McLaren oddly stuck in the midfield, Sauber and Force India each got one driver past Button, while Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso got within 0.05 seconds of Sergio Perez.

The Williams team seems to have gone backwards, with a lowly 16th being the best they could manage in FP2. Further back, Marussia appear to have made gains on the Caterham team, with Jules Bianchi going half a second faster than Charles Pic.

Mercedes suffered reliability issues near the end of the session, with both Hamilton and Rosberg stopping with gearbox problems. Mark Webber had a spin at Turn 13, but avoided a crash at his home event.

Times:

Pos. Driver                Team                  Time       Gap     Laps
 1.  Sebastian Vettel      Red Bull-Renault      1:25.908           33
 2.  Mark Webber           Red Bull-Renault      1:26.172  + 0.264  31
 3.  Nico Rosberg          Mercedes              1:26.322  + 0.414  26
 4.  Kimi Raikkonen        Lotus-Renault         1:26.361  + 0.453  37
 5.  Romain Grosjean       Lotus Renault         1:26.680  + 0.772  30
 6.  Fernando Alonso       Ferrari               1:26.748  + 0.840  35
 7.  Lewis Hamilton        Mercedes              1:26.772  + 0.864  28
 8.  Felipe Massa          Ferrari               1:26.855  + 0.947  32
 9.  Adrian Sutil          Force India-Mercedes  1:27.435  + 1.527  34
10.  Nico Hulkenberg       Sauber-Ferrari        1:28.187  + 2.279  34
11.  Jenson Button         McLaren-Mercedes      1:28.294  + 2.386  30
12.  Paul di Resta         Force India-Mercedes  1:28.311  + 2.403  37
13.  Sergio Perez          McLaren-Mercedes      1:28.566  + 2.658  32
14.  Daniel Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:28.627  + 2.719  31
15.  Esteban Gutierrez     Sauber-Ferrari        1:28.772  + 2.864  33
16.  Pastor Maldonado      Williams-Renault      1:28.852  + 2.944  36
17.  Jean-Eric Vergne      Toro Rosso-Ferrari    1:28.968  + 3.060  35
18.  Valtteri Bottas       Williams-Renault      1:29.386  + 3.478  38
19.  Jules Bianchi         Marussia-Cosworth     1:29.696  + 3.788  30
20.  Charles Pic           Caterham-Renault      1:30.165  + 4.257  37
21.  Max Chilton           Marussia-Cosworth     1:30.600  + 4.692  34
22.  Giedo van der Garde   Caterham-Renault      1:32.450  + 6.542  11

Conclusions

Obviously, Red Bull are the force to be reckoned with, but rain is forecast for qualifying and the race, so that might throw a spanner in the works. Otherwise, a Vettel win is the most probable option at this stage.

Lotus look very consistent, and they might just still be sandbagging a little, so keep an eye out for them this weekend, particularly Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari and Mercedes have shown promising flashes, but a win looks out of their reaches for the moment. Still, these four teams are currently creating a closely-packed 4-way duel at the top.

McLaren, meanwhile, are teetering dangerously close to the midfield, mixing it with the Force Indias and Saubers on Friday. Unless rain falls, getting through to Q3 might even be a stretch for Button and Perez.

Williams aren’t going anywhere fast, but the Toro Rosso car might just have some hidden potential there. At the back, it’ll be a much more closely-fought contest than 2012, with Marussia currently gaining a small edge over Caterham.

But this is still speculation, and we’ll have to confirm or deny my predictions come qualifying. See you then!

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