The first Qualifying session of the 2017 season saw a tense battle between Mercedes and Ferrari for pole, but Hamilton proved to be too much with a 0.2s gap to the German Ferrari driver. The session also proved to be very positive for Grosjean, Massa and Toro Rosso.
Mercedes will be relieved that Lewis Hamilton is on top after a lot of pre-season speculation regarding Ferrari’s pace, but the Silver Arrows aren’t in as ominous a position as they have been in previous years, with Vettel very close, Bottas 3rd and Raikkonen in the next grid slot.
Max Verstappen managed 5th, but was 1.2 seconds down on the ultimate pace of the pole-sitter. The Dutchman’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo was looking good to qualify in the top six, but lost the car at turn-13, spinning into the wall and damaging the rear of the RB13. The Aussie will be disappointed, and will start the race from 10th.
Romain Grosjean put in a stellar effort for Haas, confirming that the Ferrari power-unit has stepped up and gives confidence to the VF-17 chassis. The Frenchman’s pace was incredible, six-tenths down on Verstappen but four-tenths clear of Felipe Massa in 7th.
The un-retired Brazilian looks rejuvenated this season, and these regulations are similar to the ones that Massa was driving when he was one of the fastest drivers on the grid. His efforts have put him in a good position to pounce on Grosjean and Verstappen tomorrow, a top five finish a realistic target.
Toro Rosso deserve credit for getting both cars into Q3, with Kvyat out-qualifying Sainz by a fraction. Given how close the midfield is shaping up to be this season, the STR12 is poised for valuable points tomorrow, and might take an early lead over the likes of Renault and Force India in the Constructors.
Outside the top ten, Sergio Perez managed to pip Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault to 11th, and Fernando Alonso secured 13th for McLaren-Honda, but the Spanish veteran quickly said that the position was not one to celebrate. Against the disaster of pre-season testing, 13th doesn’t look too bad, but it’s McLaren – and it isn’t good enough.
Esteban Ocon finished 14th after his first qualifying session around Albert Park. He was half-a-second down on his teammate, but could always salvage points if there’s a bit of chaos ahead. Force India aren’t looking like 4th-place contenders at this point, but it’s worth remembering that they only started picking up stunning results after the Spanish Grand Prix last season, so the team will still be in the process of unlocking the potential of the car.
The Saubers line up in 15th and 16th, and Antonio Giovonazzi, who is stepping in for a recovering Pascal Wehrlein, was on to get into Q2 for the first time of asking. He was up on his experienced teammate, but went too deep into the final corner and just missed out on Q2. He lines up 16th, behind Ericsson.
Kevin Magnussen was a disappointing 17th considering that the other Haas starts the Australian Grand Prix in a dizzying 6th. The Danish driver went off-track on his final Q1 run, botching the lap and confirming his elimination from Qualifying.
Stoffel Vandoorne was 18th in the second McLaren, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that the team are pouring all of their developments into the other car, so it might be a tough season as number two this season for the promising Belgian as McLaren scramble to save face.
In 19th, Lance Stroll looks like he needs time to acclimatise to the the forces in Formula One. It will be interesting to see how he manages in the race and the team might become impatient, especially if Massa picks up some strong results early on in the other FW40. Jolyon Palmer finished at the back of the grid, the British driver went on a verbal assault after Q1, stating that nothing felt right with the rebuild, citing that his best time was a second-down on his free practice effort. He’s not happy, and the mechanics who spent most of yesterday repairing the RS17 that Palmer put into the fence won’t be either.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 25, 2017
Hamilton matches Ayrton Senna’s record of poles down under. Qualifying has delivered a scattered grid and it’s a relief to see very little Noah’s Ark going on, they’re not even two-by-two in the front two rows. Vettel was great at getting off the line last season, and this area was definitely Hamilton’s weakness in 2016, so the start will be vital, and may even determine the race. A tight battle between the Finns is expected, and it will be interesting to see whether the Haas of Grosjean and the Williams of Massa are able to hold on to their positions or even climb up the order.
Ricciardo should be on the ascent if overtaking doesn’t prove to be too difficult around the tricky Albert Park. The fight between Toro Rosso, Perez and Hulkenberg looks to be the real scrap for points, It’s important to get on the board early to build momentum into the season. Will the McLaren’s make the race distance? At the front, it will be a tense fight between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel off the line.