Tag Archives: Australian GP

Webber leads Vettel in Australia first practice

Webber led for the first practice session of 2011

Webber led for the first practice session of 2011

The 2011 Formula 1 season started today, with a Red Bull 1-2 in Friday Practice 1 in Melbourne.

Sebastian Vettel had taken the lead early on in the session, before his team-mate Mark Webber took back the top spot with minutes to go. Despite splitting the Red Bulls earlier on, Fernando Alonso failed to get near to Vettel and Webber by the end, losing out by 0.9 seconds.

Nico Rosberg and Rubens Barrichello out-performed their team-mates to finish 4th and 5th. The McLarens of Button and Hamilton were 6th and 7th, 1.6 seconds off Webber. Michael Schumacher led Kamui Kobayashi, whose Sauber lost a section of its engine cover late in FP1.

Felipe Massa was one of many drivers having off-track moments, struggled for raw pace and ended up 11th. Pastor Maldonado finished his first official session 15th, ahead of Toro Rosso’s test driver Daniel Ricciardo. Nico Hulkenberg also drove for Force India, but languished in 18th.

Karun Chandhok suffered a disastrous return to the F1 track, as he crashed his Lotus 3 corners in to his first installation lap. The car snapped right on cold tyres, and hit the wall. Karun has since admitted the crash was his fault:

"I’m obviously disappointed to have had such a short run for my first time in the
Team Lotus car, but I put my hands up to it and totally accept it was a combination
of a slippery track and less grip than I expected from the tyres that combined to
put me out so early.

I’m just pleased the guys could get Jarno out in the afternoon session and it shows
what a great team this is that they could get the car fixed that quickly to ensure
Jarno could get a decent number of laps under his belt in FP2."

Virgin Racing were another team to have a horrible first outing for 2011. Both Glock and D’Ambrosio were miles off the pace, and 2.3 seconds off the 107% rule, meaning that both drivers are at huge risk of not qualifying tomorrow.

At least they got 32 laps under their belt. Less can be said for HRT, who spent the entire session in the garage, with both F111 cars still being assembled.

Despite much speculation over the winter, Sebastian Vettel has downplayed the impact of the Pirelli tyres, stating that they are wearing less than they expected:

"I think we expected worse conditions here in terms of how long the tyres last.
I think this morning and this afternoon was quite useful and helped us understand
what to do in the race on Sunday. So far I think it is positive.

Still we cannot race with one stop only. I think we have to come in a couple of
times so ultimately we will find out on Sunday if the track improves or not as
it is also something we have seen in the test."

Times from Australia FP1:

Pos  Driver         Team                   Time       Gap    Laps
 1.  Webber         Red Bull-Renault       1.26.831          20
 2.  Vettel         Red Bull-Renault       1.27.158   0.327  19
 3.  Alonso         Ferrari                1.27.749   0.918  20
 4.  Rosberg        Mercedes               1.28.152   1.321  16
 5.  Barrichello    Williams-Cosworth      1.28.430   1.599  24
 6.  Button         McLaren-Mercedes       1.28.440   1.609  29
 7.  Hamilton       McLaren-Mercedes       1.28.483   1.652  26
 8.  Schumacher     Mercedes               1.28.690   1.859  14
 9.  Kobayashi      Sauber-Ferrari         1.28.725   1.894  13
10.  Petrov         Renault                1.28.765   1.930  15
11.  Massa          Ferrari                1.28.842   2.011  20
12.  Heidfeld       Renault                1.28.928   2.097  14
13.  Sutil          Force India-Mercedes   1.29.314   2.483  19
14.  Buemi          Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1.29.328   2.497  21
15.  Maldonado      Williams-Cosworth      1.29.403   2.572  24
16.  Ricciardo      Toro Rosso-Ferrari     1.29.468   2.637  23
17.  Perez          Sauber-Ferrari         1.29.643   2.812  18
18.  Hulkenberg     Force India-Mercedes   1.31.002   4.171  20
19.  Kovalainen     Lotus-Renault          1.32.428   5.597  13
20.  D'Ambrosio     Virgin-Cosworth        1.35.282   8.451  17
21.  Glock          Virgin-Cosworth        1.35.289   8.458  15
22.  Chandhok       Lotus-Renault          N/A               1
23.  Liuzzi         HRT-Cosworth           N/A
24.  Karthikeyan    HRT-Cosworth           N/A

Australian Grand Prix preview

After a long winter of waiting, Formula 1 is back for 2011! The cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix has delayed the season start, but it has only served to up the expectations of the sport’s avid fans.

With yet another reshaking-up of the rulebook, the season opener looks to be incredibly unpredictable. Here’s a look at the important factors this weekend:

DRS (Drag Reduction System)

DRS, or the adjustable rear wing, is without a doubt the most talked-about innovation in years. It was designed by the FIA to aid overtaking manouvers, by increasing the speed advantage of the car behind.

DRS may be deployed at any time during practice and qualifying, but we’ll get back to that later. In the race, this can only be used on the main straight of a circuit, when a car is less than 1 second behind the car ahead, the corner before the straight.

The rear wing flap adjusts itself to create much less drag for 600 metres, which aids the car behind with an approx. 10-12 km/hr speed advantage. However, if the system makes overtaking too easy, then the 600 metre use of the device will be lowered, and vice-versa.

Also, the rear wing innovation cannot be used within the first 2 laps of the race, or within the first 2 laps after a Safety Car restart.

In Melbourne, DRS may not have a particularly big role to play, as the main straight rarely poses as an overtaking spot anyways. However, use of the device in qualifying will be very interesting. Like the F-duct last year, it will be interesting to see who can deploy their DRS quickest out of the corners, and gain a speed advantage. Those with the best rear grip will benefit most from this type of situation.

107% Rule

This rule re-introduction will have a more profound effect at the start of 2011. In Q1, any driver who sets a time more than 7% slower than the driver in 1st place will not be allowed to start the race. Exceptions are allowed by the stewards, such as if the car was unusually slow, but teams are not allowed to appeal these decisions.

This will be particularly bothersome to HRT this weekend. As they have not turned a wheel in their F111, there is a chance that they may not be able to qualify.

Most other teams should not be fazed by this rule.

KERS

Having been mutually dropped by all teams in 2010, Kinetic Energy Restoration Systems return for 2011.

At the time of writing, some teams have not yet confirmed or denied whether they are using KERS in Australia. Therefore, the start will be absolutely crucial for all drivers. Those without the unit (Hispania and Virgin confirmed so far) will be hugely disadvantaged by the loss of 80.5 horsepower at the start.

KERS has also been touted, along with DRS, as the solution to increasing overtaking in F1. A 60kW power boost combined with 10-12 km/h speed gain will be massively beneficial to those who can utilise it. Bear in mind though that the car in front could use more of his KERS supply at the overtaking spot, if he conserves it over the rest of the lap.

KERS may be used anywhere the driver likes, so it is better in some ways to DRS. As well as the main straight, between Turns 2 and 3, 8 and 9, and 12 and 13 will be the main spots for KERS to be deployed.

Tyres

The rebirth of Pirelli in Formula 1 has turned the formbook on its head in terms of tyre degradation. Bridgestone tyres were too consistent and durable, resulting in certain 1-stop races in 2010. Not any more.

Pirelli are bringing the soft and hard compounds to Melbourne. The general consensus is that a 3-stop strategy is the maximum required this weekend. Drivers have previously complained of up to 4 stops, but Pirelli have disregarded their claims.

Wear on the rear tyres is the main concern at the moment. Drivers with progressive throttle and steering input, like Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, may benefit by prolonging the use of their tyres by up to a handful of laps, which could be crucial in terms of race strategy.

Continuing from last year, drivers must still use both compounds of dry tyres in the race, and Q3 drivers must use the same set of tyres they qualified on to start the race. The latter of these rules seems like a poor decision by the FIA to keep, as it discourages diversity in tyre compound choices at the start of the race.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the tyre reshuffle works out this weekend.

But, with the unpredictable nature in recent years of F1, we will never know for certain until race day. Roll on 2011!

Australian GP’s future in doubt?

Financial problems have thrown the future of the race into doubt

Financial problems have thrown the future of the race into doubt

While the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne has a contract for Formula 1 until 2015, annual losses and a lack of investment have thrown the event’s future into doubt.

While the 2010 race saw over 300,000 in the grandstands over the three days, the A$49.2m loss per year was a huge worry, and the state government appears unwilling to foot the bill for much longer.

Robert Doyle, Lord Mayor of Melbourne, stated:

"The big stumbling block to this scenario is the cost to the Victorian  
taxpayer. In 1996 when the race was a combination of a four-day event  
and corporate sponsorship was far more generous than it is today, the  
race still needed to be underwritten by about $1.7 million. Last year it  
was $50 million.

It is the old argument: pay up front but get many times the value of 
the upfront payment in downstream economic benefits.

For most events that formula is persuasive. But $70 million?

My judgment would be: Get ready. Time's up."

While it is worrying that such a good race is threatened, there is still hope for the Grand Prix. This race has consistently made losses, but the revenue from the event has reportedly brought up to A$180m in economic benefits per year.

On the other hand, the Australian public do not seem to be behind the funding of the Grand Prix as much as us F1 fans would have hoped. A potential $70m loss this year will be a huge deficit to tackle.

Safety should still be key

When I was watching the race on Sunday, two things struck me as odd. First of all was Kamui Kobayashi’s repeated front wing failures, and the second is the issue over the outboard wing mirrors, which I have already posted about.

Neither of these ended with catastrophic results, but they are both still worrying. The fact that drivers have to take their eyes away from the road in order to look behind them is unacceptable in F1. The fact that there were two front wing failures on one car in one weekend, with little action taken (so far), shows a lack of drive by the FIA and the stewards in improving safety.

Since the death of Ayrton Senna, Formula 1′s primary aim is safety. Many innovations have been crucial in assisting this, such as the HANS device, front, rear and side impact structures, and helmet improvements. However, ignoring simple problems like these could one day undo all the great work that had been done over the year.

Here’s one example. Kamui Kobayashi’s front wing failure meant that he speared into Nico Hulkenberg and Sebastien Buemi. Now thanks to the improvements in chassis structures, only the heaviest of impacts could result in serious injury. But, what about the debris from the front wing? Let’s not forget that the front wing is very wide, and the debris could fly into spectator or photographer areas, or near the stewards. A steward was killed in Australia 2001 when he was hit by a flyaway wheel from Jacques Villeneuve’s and Ralf Schumacher’s crash.

After incidents like these, you would think that the FIA would be quick to clamp down on the complete lack of safety in Sauber’s front wing design. But, so far no action has been taken by either the FIA or the stewards regarding this problem. Hopefully Sauber will sort this out before Malaysia next weekend, but it is very worrying to see that something like this could get away unpunished.

Then, we have the problem of the outboard wing mirrors. At the moment, the mirrors are outside the drivers’ peripheral vision, which is the area that you can see, outside the point that you are currently looking at. If you currently want to look behind you, you must first take your eyes off the road, which is plain crazy at speeds of up to 200mph. This means that drivers are opting to keep looking ahead instead of behind, which means they don’t see cars approach from behind. A perfect example of this is the collision between Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher.

When Fernando turned into Turn 1, he simply couldn’t look in his mirrors to see that Button had already taken the inside line into the corner. Jenson tipped Fernando into a spin, and he hit Schumacher, damaging his front wing. To be honest, I’m amazed that nobody else was caught up in this incident, seeing as there was a backwards Ferrari and a small bit of flying debris.

While this incident was a small one in the scale of things, there could be a much worse accident if the outboard wing mirrors continue to be used. These are just my thoughts, but swift action must be taken on issues like these to ensure that Formula 1 retains its appearance as a pinnacle for safety.

Australian Grand Prix analysis – a true drivers’ race

For all the complaining Formula 1 got for the race in Bahrain, the Australian race has firmly put F1 back in the good light. Thanks to the early rain, there was no messy tyre compound changes, no refuelling to worry about, so it was all down to the drivers. They didn’t dissappoint, and we got a brilliant race as a result. Here is the analysis of a great race.

Button’s consistency

Button vs Hamilton, from Lap 8 to Lap 58

Button vs Hamilton, from Lap 8 to Lap 58

Here we can see why Button stayed ahead, even though Hamilton was quicker after his pit stop. On the few laps before Hamilton pitted on Lap 34, his tyres had already degraded, since he was charging through the field. Meanwhile, Button had driven very cleanly and consistently, meaning his tyres were in a good enough state to be used for the rest of the race. Even after Hamilton’s stop, he was only 1 to 1.5 seconds behind, which was nowhere near enough to catch Button up again. The Ferraris were the final step to ensure that Hamilton would be well behind his team-mate. His collision with Webber was the end in a frustrating day for Lewis.

Jenson, meanwhile, showed the form that won him the championship last year. A perfect example is Monaco last year. All of the other drivers struggled with managing the softer tyres, and Button sailed away by managing tyre wear while still mantaining a healthy lead, and took the win easily. The same scenario happened today in Melbourne. By keeping his tyres in check, he could still keep up the pace throughout the race, while others struggled, or were forced to pit again.

Kubica’s different tyre strategy

Kubica on hard tyres as opposed to Massa on softs

Kubica on hard tyres as opposed to Massa on softs

While most of the field took on soft tyres after the track dried out on Lap 8, Robert Kubica decided to take the harder compound. From an analysis perspective, it makes little sense, seeing as the soft tyres were lasting most of the race distance. However, by the end, they would be in pieces, whereas the harder compound could keep performing well throughout.

Up to about Lap 42, Massa’s laps were faster than Kubica’s, save a few mistakes and being slowed down by others. However, tyre degradation quickly caught up with him, which meant that he could not catch up with Kubica at the end. Although Robert had an advantage at the start by having one position more, he stayed well ahead of him for the entire race. So, the call for hard tyres went well for Renault, although it is unclear how well the car would have performed with the softs.

Lotus well ahead

Drivers from all 3 of the new teams

Drivers from all 3 of the new teams

For this graph, I have omitted Jarno Trulli and Bruno Senna, since they did not last long enough to contribute to this analysis.

While it is slightly more clustered and harder to read (sorry about that) we can determine that Heikki Kovalainen was definitely the fastest of the new teams today, like I predicted yesterday. Better still, a reliable car meant he made it to the finish only 2 laps down. While he was well off the pace, with a best lap time of 1.33.639, he was consistent, so it was a good finish for them.

Neither Virgin finished, but they weren’t too bad in terms of pace. Timo Glock’s best time was 1.34.240, 6 tenths off Kovalainen’s time, but Lucas di Grassi was another 2.4 seconds behind. He retired on Lap 26 with a hydraulic problem, so that might have been affecting his pace. Timo Glock pulled out with 15 laps to go with a suspension failure at the back left of the car. It is believed that a piece came loose.

HRT did well when you consider they finished a race with 1 driver. While Bruno Senna lasted only 4 laps, Karun Chandhok clung on fot the rest of the race to finish, albeit 5 laps down. His best time of 1.35.045 may seem encouraging, but he constantly made mistakes, and destroyed the floor of the car by running onto the gravel traps repeatedly. Still, a race finish is a step in the right direction, so the next aim must be to get both of their drivers to finish a race.

Button triumphs in Melbourne as Vettel crashes out

Jenson Button the race winner, ahead of Robert Kubica and Felipe Massa

Jenson Button the race winner, ahead of Robert Kubica and Felipe Massa

Sebastian Vettel was robbed of a probable victory in Australia as a mechanical problem cost him the lead halfway through the race. Anyone getting a sense of deja vu?

The German led well for the first half of the race, before a front left brake failure meant he spun out at Turn 13. This left the door wide open for Jenson Button to win the race, who had made good progress from a slick tyre gamble at the start of the race.

Button, Alonso and Schumacher all collide at Turn 1

Button, Alonso and Schumacher all collide at Turn 1

When the cars lined up for the formation lap, the track was wet, so all cars were on intermediates. The wet conditions meant it was even more dangerous at the first corner. Like I predicted, there was a first-corner crash, but not in the way we expected. Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher all went for the same piece of track, and Alonso ended up back to front, while Schumacher had to pit for a new front wing. Both of these drivers fell to the back, but benefited from the safety car being called out for another crash. With another sense of deja vu, Kamui Kobayashi had a front wing failure at Turn 3, and smashed into Nico Hulkenberg and Sebastien Buemi, taking both out on the spot.

Kobayashi takes out Hulekenberg and Buemi after another front wing failure

Kobayashi takes out Hulekenberg and Buemi after another front wing failure

Even with the safety car deployed, there were more retirements to come. Jarno Trulli and Bruno Senna fell prey to their new cars’ reliabiliy problems, and stopped soon enough after the start.

After the safety car pitted on Lap 5, the race got underway. Mark Webber lost a place at the start to Felipe Massa, then was overtaken by Robert Kubica at Turn 1 when the race resumed. By the next lap, Button made the very risky move to switch to slick tyres, seeing as how the track was still damp in places. On the first corner after he pitted, he ran straight off, but recovered well to be setting fastest laps in 2 laps time.

This news resulted in a mad scramble for tyres on Lap 8, with most of the field bar the Red Bulls pitting that lap. Sebastian Vettel stopped the next lap, and got away with it, but Webber’s stop on Lap 10 was too late, and he lost further positions. He attempted to make it up by making a move on Felipe Massa, but ran wide, and lost even more places.

Meanwhile, at the back, Alonso and Schumacher had work to do. While Fernando got stuck into getting past the backmarkers, which he did well, Schumacher had a disaster, struggling to get past Jaime Alguersuari for most of the day, and completely ruined his race. When he tried a move on Lucas di Grassi a few laps earlier, the Brazilian responded by taking the position back the next corner, resulting in many smiles in the Virgin garage. While he didn’t keep the position, it must have been a great sight to see a new driver in a new team keeping his own against Michael Schumacher.

While one Ferrari worked his way up the grid, the other was defending himself against Lewis Hamilton. The Briton made a move at Turn 1, and got away with it, but damaged his front wing in the process. The damage wasn’t enough to nessecitate a pit stop though.

Vettel loses control after a suspected brake failure

Vettel loses control after a suspected brake failure

Vettel was still leading at this point, but not for long. On Lap 25, he crashed out at Turn 13, ending his chances of a win for the second race in a row. He reported on the team radio that there was a front left brake failure, but this is yet to be confirmed. His crash handed the lead to Jenson Button, who took the lead and never let go of it throughout the race.

The next issue concerned the entire field. By around Lap 30 out of 58, there were two options: Pit once more and put on the soft tyres, or keep going on the same set for the rest of the race. When the track had dried out at the start, all the drivers except Robert Kubica had taken on the soft tyres. When the chance to pit again later cam around, most some took it while others stayed out. Button, Kubica, Massa and Alonso were the frontrunners who opted to stay out. Schumacher, Rosberg, Hamilton and Barrichello decided to pit, and all took on the soft tyres. Don’t forget that since there was rain, both compounds of tyres do not have to be used throughout the race.

The gamble to pit did not pay off for these drivers. Schumacher still wasn’t going anywhere, Rosberg’s car wasn’t quick enough to catch up to Kubica, and Hamilton got stuck behind Massa and Alonso while trying to catch up to Button.

After the mad scrambles around the track for the first half, the main battle in the second half was between Rosberg, Massa, Alonso, Hamilton and Webber. Lewis rued the decision to pit, as he had become stuck behind the Ferraris for the rest of the race. Amazingly, while Button had conserved his tyres well, Hamilton ripped up his tyres even after his pit stop, which further hampered his efforts.

This battle for third all went horribly wrong with 3 laps to go. Hamilton tried a move on Alonso at Turn 15, Webber made a mistake and slammed into Hamilton, which broke Webber’s front wing and meant Rosberg got ahead of Hamilton. Mark pitted instantly, but fell to 9th. He apologised to Hamilton after the race, but Lewis was more angry about the strategy mistake.

Jenson Button celebrates after taking his first win for McLaren

Jenson Button celebrates after taking his first win for McLaren

While all this was happening, Button was sailing away to his first victory with McLaren. Smooth tyre managment and good pace throughout, as well as good tactical choices, meant a comfortable finish for the Briton. He crossed the line first, with Robert Kubica 12 seconds behind, and Massa finished off the podium. Alonso got 4th to keep his lead in the championship, Rosberg benefited from Hamilton’s and Webber’s woes to finish 5th, then Hamilton ended up 6th. Vitantonio Liuzzi drove clean and consistently to finish 7th, Barrichello was 8th, Webber was 9th, and Schumacher was 10th after overtaking Alguersuari and De La Rosa in the final few laps.

Lotus and HRT got their first finishes, albeit 2 and 5 laps down respectively. Heikki Kovalainen, like I said, did a good job to get 13th, while Karun Chandhok survived a few mistakes to finish 14th. Both of the Virgin drivers, Trulli and Senna all had mechanical problems.

It was a fantastic race, which firmly shut up all the whingers who complain about Formula 1 being boring. Interestingly enough, the rain wasn’t really needed to make a great race, so we can all look forward to Malaysia next weekend.

Drivers and Constructors championship standings have been updated, you can view them here.

Pictures and analysis to follow soon.

Full result:

Driver Team Gap # of laps
1 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 58
2 Robert Kubica Renault 12.034 58
3 Felipe Massa Ferrari 14.488 58
4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 16.304 58
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP 16.683 58
6 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 29.898 58
7 Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 59.847 58
8 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 60.536 58
9 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 67.319 58
10 Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP 69.391 58
11 Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 71.301 58
12 Pedro de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 74.084 58
13 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 2 Laps 56
14 Karun Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 5 Laps 53
Not Classified
15 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 17 Laps 41
16 Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 32 Laps 26
17 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 33 Laps 25
18 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 49 Laps 9
19 Vitaly Petrov Renault 49 Laps 9
20 Bruno Senna HRT-Cosworth 54 Laps 4
21 Nico Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 58 Laps 0
22 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 58 Laps 0
23 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 58 Laps 0
24 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 58 Laps 0

Autralian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

The last time Sebastian Vettel took pole position, a spark plug failure cost him a probable victory. This time, he will be hoping for better luck in Australia. Before the race begins, let’s have a look at what might happen during the race.

The traditional first-corner Melbourne crash - expect another this year

The traditional first-corner Melbourne crash - expect another this year

First of all, with an extra 4 cars on the grid, and the notorious Turn 1, there will almost definitely be a first-lap crash. In 2009, Heikki Kovalainen, Mark Webber and Rubens Barrichello all collided. The year before, Felipe Massa spun, and Webber, Button, Vettel, Heidfeld and Fisichella all got involved at the first corner. Also, with the much heavier fuel loads at the start, I am sure that someone will be caught out and understeer into someone else.

Another factor to consider is that the pole sitter has a very high chance of keeping their lead. In the last 14 years in Melbourne, only 2 of the pole sitters did not win. They were both involved in accidents in the race. The driver in pole position generally can cut out a huge lead for himself, as Jenson Button did last year. Even better, they are on the clean side of the track, so a good start is very likely. With all of this in mind, Vettel has a good chance of keeping his lead.

But, what about his well-known reliability problems? Two-thirds of the lap in Melbourne is spent at full throttle, which could be a strain on the engines. However, this could be countered by the colder-than-normal conditions we have been having across the weekend. If it rains, for example, the Renault engine would hardly overheat.

Next up is strategy. If the conditions were dry, then it would be a simple 1-stop strategy for most of the field. But, the  imminent first-lap crash will cause tyre problems if the safety car is deployed. If Bernd Maylander is called out, then drivers who started on the softer tyre will have less time to get the most out of them. Drivers who start on the harder compound can go much longer in the race, when added with the durability benefit. The one problem is that the harder compound takes about 3 laps to fully warm up, which would suit them well if the safety car came out on Lap 1, and they were heated then. For the front-runners, however, most will have to start on the soft tyre, since their fastest lap was set on them in Q3. Therefore, those in the top 10 who are starting on the hard tyre (unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be an official list of who is on what tyre, but I’m pretty sure that Sutil is one of the drivers on the harder tyre) will have a good chance in the race.

There will not be the tyre-wear issue that we had last year. A few days back, I incorrectly reported that the super-soft and medium tyres were being brought by Bridgestone. It is in fact the soft and hard tyres that are being used. This means that the super-soft tyre problem that we had last year will not be happening this year, which means that the soft compound can be used for about 15 or so laps this year, compared to the 10 laps last year.

Then of course there is the weather. Unlike many other years, showers are being forecast for tomorrow. If rain does fall, then the two compounds of tyres do not have to be used in the race. Depending on when it falls, it may give an advantage to the front runners who start on the soft tyre. The perfect time for it to rain, in the eyes of the leaders, is around Lap 14-16 or so. The BBC are predicting heavy rain at points tomorrow, with moderate visibility. Temperatures will be between 12 and 20 degrees. The colder-than-normal temperatures will hugely disadvantage the harder tyre, because it will be harder to warm them up when they are first put on.

Drivers to watch

Mark Webber – The local boy, woho has never finished higher here than his 5th in 2002 with Minardi. He is 2nd on the grid this year, with the best car on the grid. with the crowd behind him, expect him to push Vettel for the win until the last lap. Unless his terrible luck catches up with him…

Robert Kubica – an upgraded front wing and other aerodynamic updates have resulted in a much better R30 than in Bahrain. Kubica starts P9, and on the clean side of the grid as well, so he could make up 1 or 2 places at the start. The Renault seems to pick up speed very well as its fuel burns off, so if the weather stays dry then he could perform well. The one thing he needs to be careful of is the first corner, with several aggressive drivers ahead of (Schumacher) and behind (Sutil and Hamilton) him.

Lewis Hamilton – I’m not expecting a good result from the Briton, but I am expecting fireworks. He is overly aggressive at starts sometimes, and he is bunched up in the middle of the field, so expect him to cause a big pile-up on Lap1.

Heikki Kovalainen – This may seem like an odd choice, but he has the best chance out of the new teams. He lines up 19th on the clean side of the grid. He has the best new car, so he may possibly get a chance of keeping the pressure on the drivers in front. The only thing that would stop him is reliability.

Australian GP Saturday qualifying press conference

Today we saw Red Bull lock out the front row of the grid ahead of tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel leading Mark Webber. Fernando Alonso joined these two in the post-qualifying press conference:

Q: Sebastian, what a lap. The final sector of it you were hanging it off the edge of the kerbs, you were all over the place. You certainly spoiled the day for the Webber fans here in Melbourne.
Sebastian Vettel:
Yeah, I think obviously first of all it is a great result for both of us and for the team. Mark’s home race, so it is a little bit funny remembering last year from Germany, so kind of revenge but it is a long race tomorrow. But coming back to qualifying, I think we did a good step into qualifying with the car, improving it, and the final session was all about ‘does it start to rain or not.’ Everyone went out. We waited a little bit and the first lap was the quickest and just spot on everywhere until I reached the last three corners. I would say turn 14, the fast right hander, I was still on the edge and okay but after that I think I lost a little bit, especially the last corner onto the main straight. It was a very good lap up to that point. I was very happy. I think the result says it all, so looking forward to tomorrow. It is quite good to start at the front. We don’t know how messy it might get tomorrow, safety car, no safety car. There is always a lot happening in Albert Park but it is good to be on pole. The clean side as well, so I am very happy.

Q: Mark, eight one-hundredths of a second down on Sebastian. You lost time in the middle sector there but what did you think of your performance? Are you happy?
Mark Webber:
Not really. I would love to be on pole. Second is a good result as Seb said for the team. Both of us are up there which is fantastic. It is a lot better than my qualifying in Bahrain. The lap was pretty decent but for both of us there is always a little bit here and there where you can get a little bit more out of it. In the end I did my best. That’s all I could do. The middle sector, turn six and nine, is always a balancing act to get the entries and exit clean, so overall I would say I would like to be one place further up but Seb did a good job for the team, so very, very close and see how we go tomorrow.

Q: Fernando, you are a further eight one-hundredths down on Mark. Are you closer to the Red Bulls on race pace, do you think, than you are on qualifying pace?
Fernando Alonso:
No idea. We see tomorrow. Qualifying has been good for us. We knew that to beat the Red Bulls was a difficult thing to do here, so we just concentrated to maximise our potential, so third I think is a very good result and the pace has been good in one lap performance, so we are close to them and tomorrow we see. The race is long. We will try to finish the race and hopefully be on the podium again like in Bahrain and keep on scoring points. The race is long and as Sebastian said here will be a very long race with safety cars, accidents, problems, very tough also for the mechanical aspect of the car. First we need to finish the race and then we will see if we were quick enough to fight for the win or not.

Q: Sebastian, you said on the radio at the end that ‘we will show them’. Do you feel you have something to prove and , if so, who is them?
SV:
Everyone else. I got the call P1 and Mark P2, so at the end of the day you are a team and the result in Bahrain for both of us, myself and Mark, was probably not as the car is. We have got another chance here. There are lots of races this year but it is quickly said on the radio, things like that. We are all motivated and I am looking forward to tomorrow.

Q: Sebastian, we spoke about the final sector. That was also where both the two Red Bull cars were particularly strong. What was the trick to that?
SV:
Nail it! I think that the car has been working well yesterday. I think I was a bit behind Mark in the first two practice sessions and overnight we did a step forward. I think to qualifying again it was another step and then it was pretty much head to head. You were talking about the first run in Q3. We were all the teams in the same situation. We didn’t know if it would start to rain or not. We had the forecast of some drizzle, but you never know how strong that is going to be. It can easily spoil your lap. I think that the first run I had in Q3, the first two sectors were spot on. The third sector was getting a bit messy towards the end, so I lost it a little bit into 15, braking a bit late and I had not so clean an exit onto the main straight, so it wasn’t ideal but still it was enough. For all of us we are trying to push so hard and trying to get every single bit out of the car. Especially here in Melbourne it is very easy to overshoot on entry and therefore have a bad exit or be too patient on entry and therefore having a good exit but having lost the time on the entrance of the corner. It is always a compromise to find. I like the circuit. It is very bumpy, very rough, but you really need to concentrate hard. Being on pole positions is a great achievement from all of us. Mark second, so it is the best possible result for the team, so looking forward to the race.

Q: You have never finished here, but you have only been here twice. What are the major factors in the race going to be? How difficult is the car to drive on the bumps under braking?
SV:
Well, I think the main thing is to finish. See the chequered flag this time. Last year we were close, only a couple of laps. But today was qualifying. Similar to Bahrain, Saturday is completely different to Sunday. Now we have a rough idea what is happening on Sunday, meaning that everyone of us will jump into the car with a lot of fuel in the car and it will be totally different. I think it will be even more bumpy and more difficult to control. It is a very long race. You need to focus on your own race, keeping the car on the track and at the same time managing your tyres plus trying to keep the car always on the limit. On top of that Albert Park is well known for any kind of happenings. I remember two years back only seven cars finished, so safety car, accidents, could be quite messy, so the main thing is to have a tidy race and bring the car home. Starting first that‘s where you want to finish as well.

Q: Mark, particularly impressive on the harder tyres in Q2. That must be encouraging even if you are disappointed not to be on pole?
MW:
The team has done a great job all weekend. We have been competitive all weekend. We have always been in the top few, so that was not what we expected as we know we have some very good opposition here. But in the end we got the maximum result for the team. Obviously I am not happy with the order but Seb did a great job and both of us pushed each other hard and that is what it’s about at this level. He got one back on me from Germany last year when I got pole from him as he said before, so in the end we had a good battle today and we go again tomorrow. It is a long, long race in terms of safety cars and a lot of the smaller teams with inexperienced drivers are also getting used to this new type of venue compared to Bahrain. It is a different type of track, so I don’t think that we will be finishing in the order in terms of the top 10. I think there will be few changes potentially, so we will see how it goes.

Q: How much did you change from this morning to this afternoon and from yesterday as well?
MW:
We changed a bit overnight, as much as we could. We got pretty much the optimum out of the car today. It went very well. It is evident that Sebastian and I are trying to find time that is probably not there and we can see that with his last sector in places and my middle sector. All of a sudden you start to look for a lap time which is much more riskier to get and easy to make mistakes. I wasn’t particularly keen on repeating my Bahrain performance. That was a good lap. Just a bee’s dick off pole, but at least I am on the front row and have a good chance to start the race in a good position.

Q: Fernando, apart from everything else you had a new wing on the car today from yesterday. Has that made a big difference? Anything major?
FA:
Some, some new parts put in the car. You put it in because you believe it is better. We are talking about hundredths of seconds. Anything is welcome but for this race we didn’t change the car in a way.

Q: You won here in 2006 and you said yesterday you were concentrating on race settings, so is third on the grid a surprise for you?
FA:
Not a surprise as I was not expecting any clear order. Yesterday’s times they mean nearly nothing as with the different fuel loads we have this year anyone can have a different preparation for the weekend. Yesterday we were in P15, so we were preparing for the race compared to our competitors maybe a little bit more, so for tomorrow I am confident. But as we all three said already, tomorrow’s race is a very long race with many things that normally happen here. Also there is the weather as it is not so clear that it will be dry, so anything can happen tomorrow. Better to start in the top three, top five, if you want to fight for a podium or a win, so definitely extremely happy with the position in the top three but we know that this is only the start of the weekend and tomorrow is the real job.

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

Q: (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Sebastian, in Bahrain you were surrounded by the two Ferraris. Here you have Mark on your side. Which is the better situation?
MW:
I think clearly to have Mark here. As Mark said before we were pushing each other hard in qualifying and now we sit here first and second. That is a great achievement. It is better than having two Ferraris up here and only one Red Bull.

Q: Mark, what is your emotion right now? Is it frustration or disappointment?
MW:
For sure I have had tougher days in my life, so I will sleep well tonight. It is the competitive instinct that you come here looking to get the maximum and you always want to do a little bit better than what you did. In the end we both showed today that probably that was where the car was as we repeated the lap times a few times. I will be happy in the morning when I wake up. I am in a good position to have a decent race, but this place is incredibly unpredictable come Sunday afternoon. Not only because of the type of circuit it is but because there can be some changeable weather tomorrow afternoon. I am getting happier every minute.

Q: (Carlos Miquel – Diario AS) Fernando, what’s your plan for tomorrow? To wait for the Red Bull Racing battle or to attack your friend Mark Webber?
FA:
I will think about it tonight and make a decision tomorrow. No, let’s wait and see. Obviously, the first priority is to finish the race. We need the points. You cannot have a DNF (did not finish) in the second race of the championship because of one stupid mistake. So the first priority is to finish the race and the second priority is to finish in a better position than where you normally started the race. Not if you started on pole, but if you start third you only look ahead of you and there are Mark and Sebastian and hopefully you can have a chance to fight with them. If not, obviously we need to fight to be on the podium, because that would also be a good result, to finish the first two races on the podium. So let’s wait and see and tomorrow we will see how the race develops.

Q: (Luis Fernando – Racing Magazine) Mark, a few days ago, you said it was better to be first or third in qualifying because it would be a bit of a mess to start on the right side of the grid, so can we assume that tomorrow you will be more in a defensive frame of mind than an attacking one?
MW:
I would still take second over third, obviously. I still have a reasonable position to start the race. It’s very difficult to know how it will unfold until basically the first hundred meters tomorrow. We’re still very, very optimistic. Our starts were good in Bahrain. In the past there has been a bit of a difference from left to right here but we will see what happens. Obviously the Lamborghinis decided to smash into each other on the front straight quite solidly today, so there’s been a bit of a clean-up after that and hopefully the track is clean. It’s always the way; Budapest, Monaco, there are a few tracks and this is one of them where there is a discrepancy from left to right but that’s how it’s always been, so I will see how it goes.

Q: (Mark Fogarty – Auto Action) Mark, perhaps more than ever, the eyes of a nation will be on you tomorrow. How daunting a prospect is that?
MW:
Not really, mate, because I know tomorrow’s papers will be wrapping fish and chips on Monday. They’re very fickle and most people down here obviously think that this is the only race of the season. I have a much, much bigger thing in mind, obviously, a good result tomorrow. Of course I’m keen to do well here, but every Grand Prix is a very respectful thing to take part in. I’ve a very good team behind me and whether I’m in Australia, Budapest, Japan we give our best. Every time we get in the car we have to deliver. Today I didn’t feel any pressure at all. I felt like I drove well and I enjoyed it. When the helmet is on, it’s over to me to do the job.

Q: (Livio Oricchio – O Estado de Sao Paulo) Vettel, in the last race on softer tyres, it looks like you had a little bit better performance than Ferrari and when you used hard tyres, it looked Alonso was maybe a little bit better. Considering what you saw in free practice, what can you expect from the race?
SV:
Well, I think this is a different circuit here, different tyres as well, soft and hard, but they are both different to Bahrain, so I think, as Fernando has already mentioned, the lap times on Friday weren’t really representative. Everyone is doing whatever he thinks is best for his kind of preparation, either qualifying, something in between, or race. I think we will have a good car in the race. To be honest, I don’t think you have to be a genius if you look at yesterday, we didn’t really focus on qualifying too much. I think it makes us confident for the race and we should have a good car, so Fernando was saying that they have a new front wing on the car, only a couple of hundredths or as Mark said it could be two hundred hundredths. Obviously it’s not that much but everyone is trying to push, trying to improve. I think tomorrow it will be much more about having a tidy race as it is likely that a lot of things happen here: safety cars, as we said already. There’s usually a lot of action at Albert Park. I hope for a boring race and we finish as we start. I’m sorry for you but we didn’t really get the job done in Bahrain, so we will try to do it here.

Q: (Heikki Kulta – Turun Sanomat) I was about to ask how boring it could be; can you promise a more colourful race for the TV spectators?
SV:
Well, I think yes, because this circuit has an edge that there is simply more action than probably in Bahrain, so more things happening. The circuit’s not that long, so you might also have more situations lapping cars, lapping groups which can always be a dangerous situation for yourself and for them as well. There’s not a lot of run-off whereas in Bahrain, if you maybe do a mistake you just run wide and you come back. Here it always looks nice on TV but it feels horrible in the car, as I felt yesterday. It’s immediately gravel or something that isn’t that smooth. Yeah, I think we will have more excitement tomorrow just because of the circuit, first of all. Secondly, I think it’s a bit closer here than it was in Bahrain. It’s also a shorter track, so it’s natural, and lastly, as Fernando said, we don’t know the weather yet. There’s usually always sunshine in Australia, so I don’t know what’s wrong this year. You never know what happens. Just a couple of drops on the circuit can make a difference. So you keep the car on the track and try to bring it home. For us, I think the target is clear.

Q: (Paolo Ianieri – La Gazzetta dello Sport) Sebastian, we have seen that the Red Bull is a fast car, but the reliability is probably not at its best. What do you have to do with the team, how have you spoken to them to try to avoid the problems that you had in Bahrain? Are you worried about it?
SV:
Well, it’s not fair to say that we are struggling with reliability. In Bahrain, we were obviously a bit unlucky with the failure that we had. A spark plug failure doesn’t really happen too often but it happened in that case. The main thing is that we carried on and we still finished fourth. I think Mark had a solid race in Bahrain. If you look at reliability, I think it was quite boring for him to follow another car for the whole race and not be able to pass, even though he was probably quicker. To come back, I think we have nothing to fear. We have good and strong people on board. If there’s any indication that we might have a weakness here or there, which, to be frank with you, in testing it’s natural, I think, because the car is new because you always have some problems here and there to solve. We solved them and so far we’ve had no issues. In that regard I’m quite confident.

Q: (Dan Knutson – National Speed Sport News) Mark, there are reports in the papers that Sydney will make a bid for this race after the contract expires. But you also say you like it here. What is it about Melbourne that makes it the perfect home for the Australian Grand Prix?
MW:
Look, this is not the Melbourne Grand Prix for me, it’s the Australian Grand Prix. We should be proud of having a big event like this in Australia. I know Australia’s very territorial when it comes to separate states and in many ways we are different countries within one but it’s a big country and you can get here to watch the race from any part of Australia if you’re keen. I don’t have a clue where they’re going to run a Grand Prix in Sydney at the moment. Of course it’s a long way away if they’re looking to design something half decent, but there’s nothing wrong with this venue. All the drivers like it. Transport is sensational. Seb says we need to resurface it in places a little bit but we can do that if we have to. You always think it’s greener somewhere else. Adelaide put on a good show and so has this place. We’ve been here for a long time.

Austraian qualifying picture gallery

Today we saw Red Bull lock out the front row before the Australian Grand Prix tomorrow. Here are some of the pictures taken from today:

Vettel and Webber lock out the front row in Australian qualifying

Sebastian Vettel ahead of Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso

Sebastian Vettel ahead of Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso

Red Bull took the front row of the grid for the Australian Grand Prix tomorrow, with Sebastian Vettel leading local boy Mark Webber.

Vettel’s Q3 time of 1.23.919 was the fastest of the weekend so far, and was a tenth of a second ahead of Webber. Fernando Alonso’s best lap time was 1.24.111, putting him in third place. The biggest susprise of qualifying was Lewis Hamilton failing to get into Q3, the first of the top 4 teams to do so this season.

Q1

Red Bull were the only team who managed to get through to Q2 using only the hard tyres, which are believed to be half a second slower than the softer tyre. Hamilton, Button and Alonso, as well as the Red Bulls, were all able to get through with only 1 run. As expected, the new 3 teams filled up the back 3 rows of the grid, but HRT have now improved well from Bahrain. The two Lotus drivers finished ahead of Virgin and HRT. However, Jarno Tulli’s performance was hindered by a broken seat.

Sebastien Buemi would have been knocked out with the new teams, but for a last-gasp effort to put Vitaly Petrovin his place. The Russian might have got through to Q2, but a mistake at Turns 11 and 12 slowed him down considerably.

Drivers knocked out in Q1:

18)Sebatien Buemi

19)Heikki Kovalainen

20)Jarno Trulli

21)Timo Glock

22)Lucas di Grassi

23)Bruno Senna

24)Karun Chandhok

Q2

The biggest surprise of this session was that Lewis Hamilton failed to get through to Q3. He did two runs on the soft tyre, and was only a small fraction of a second behind Robert Kubica, but ended up 11th.

While Nico Hulkenberg only qualified 15th, Rubens Barrichello was 7 tenths faster, and got through to Q3. The Saubers struggled again, with Pedro de la Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi getting 14th and 16th respectively.Toro Rosso did well, with Sebastien Buemi getting 12th, and Jaime Alguersuari ending up 17th.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11)Lewis Hamilton

12)Sebastien Buemi

13)Vitantonio Liuzzi

14)Pedro de la Rosa

15)Nico Hulkenberg

16)Kamui Kobayashi

17)Jaime Alguersuari

Q3

Webber was initially fastest, getting ahead of Alonso. But, Vettel’s fastest lap of the weekend threw him off the top spot, despite a mistake in the final sector.All of the top drivers’ final runs were fruitless, with little improvement from their efforts.

At the end of the session, both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher tried a run on the hard tyres, but neither improved on their time. It is clear that they were trying to improve their chances in the race, by going further in the first stint.

Jenson Button was fourth, followed by Felipe Massa, Rosberg, Schumacher, Barrichello, Kubica and Sutil.

Pictures will be added soon.

Full results from qualifying:

1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1.24.774 1.24.096 1.23.919
2 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1.25.286 1.24.276 1.24.035
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1.25.082 1.24.335 1.24.111
4 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1.24.897 1.24.531 1.24.675
5 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1.25.548 1.25.010 1.24.837
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1.24.788 1.24.788 1.24.884
7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1.25.351 1.24.871 1.24.927
8 Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1.25.702 1.25.085 1.25.217
9 Robert Kubica Renault 1.25.588 1.25.122 1.25.372
10 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1.25.504 1.25.046 1.26.036
11 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1.25.046 1.25.184
12 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1.26.061 1.25.638
13 Vitantonio Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1.26.170 1.25.743
14 Pedro de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1.26.089 1.25.747
15 Nico Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1.25.866 1.25.748
16 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1.26.251 1.25.777
17 Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1.26.095 1.26.089
18 Vitaly Petrov Renault 1.26.471
19 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1.28.797
20 Jarno Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1.29.111
21 Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1.29.592
22 Lucas di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1.30.185
23 Bruno Senna HRT-Cosworth 1.30.526
24 Karun Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1.30.613
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