Formula One 2012 Preview : Australian Grand Prix Qualifying
It has been a mixed few years for Grand Prix racing. After a less than gripping 2011 season, fans are checking out the pack down under for this year’s opening race in Melbourne. Not too may rule changes – gone are blown diffusers – with DRS and KERS remaining on the cars. The pre-season testing and practice sessions gave no clue as to the form so all eyes on qualifying to get a clue … and very entertaining it was too. Some new-ish faces, including home boy Daniel Ricciardo driving the vastly improved Torro Rosso – a welcome relief from his debut last season with HRT, the team who failed to qualify for this weekend’s race under the 107% rule (banishing De La Rosa and Karthikyan before Q2 got underway). Engine donor Ferrari fared poorly with a car that looked a right handful for Alonso who went gardening in Q2 and left Massa to save the Scuderia, failing dismally it has to be said; he scraped through Q1 to go out in 16th in Q2.. Whether Felippe will ever re-capture his pre-Hungary magic is moot given the gelded form of the prancing horse this year.
McLaren look to be the front runners – qualifying on the front row with Hamilton taking pole – and with a decisive margin over Red Bull. So far they are most likely to be challenged closely by Mercedes. Nico Rosberg drove a great last session but ended up being pipped by the master, as Schumacher seems to have got the measure of the new Brawn chassis and popped in to take 4th on the grid. 3rd place went to a hugely impressive drive from young Romain Grosjean, returning to F1 in triumph from his GP2 championship last year. The Frenchman thoroughly deserves his seat with the Renault team – now sporting the heritage title of Lotus-Renault – making a mockery of the return of team mate and perennial Laughing Boy, Kimi Raikkonen, who managed a piss-poor 18th. Mark Webber looked less sure of himself or the new Red Bull, despite being on home turf. It has always been here, and at the British GP, where Mark tends to eclipse his charging team mate, Vettel, of whom several pundits are mumbling that a 3rd sequential championship is a strong possibility. Certainly the boy wonder drove well but his experience is closely married to the form of Adrian Newey’s beast from Milton Keynes. His chances depend to a large extent on the car and it remains to be seen if he can drive beyond its capabilities, despite a well-deserved clutch of gongs.
There was enough uncertainty amidst today’s performances to suggest the season will be relatively open. McLaren have reclaimed top-dog-spot from Red Bull but it would be a fool who suggests this season will follow the qualifying positions at Albert Park. The retention of DRS should ensure overtaking continues to grow back in to a sport which needs to make sure that ‘racing’ is more than a simple moniker and there is enough young blood challenging the old(-ish) guard to keep all the drivers on their toes. That said, Ferrari are having a terrible time and for the sake of the sport, one can only hope that Maranello manage to hire a design engineer who can lift the car up to the level of its former and somewhat distant glories.
So cast an eye over the grid at Melbourne but don’t use it as an indicator for the season. There is enough variety in cars, tyres, tracks, drivers and egos to give us die-hards something to look forwards to in 2012.
- Formula 1 – McLaren Lock-Out the Front Row in Australia (beyondtheredline.org)
- Formula One 2012 Preview: McLaren (bleacherreport.com)
- If Lotus wins, then what? (formulaoneupdate.wordpress.com)
- Formula One 2012: guide to the grid (guardian.co.uk)