F1 – Australian GP – Qualifying
G’day, MiniFans! We’re finally back to racing down under, but that’s not the only news from the weekend. Vettel is back after missing the first two races due to testing positive for COVID, and the FIA did a brief run of 4 DRS zones before scrapping the idea, after the first free sessions and consulting the drivers.
Drivers seemed eager to kick of qualifying in Melbourne, as half the grid went out at the beginning of Q1. It was mostly the usual suspects, with Haas and Williams setting the first references on track, but Ferrari was also among them. A couple of brief yellow flags littered the session and, almost halfway through, Aston Martin had still not come out. The green team was still working on both cars throughout this first stint of qualifying. Stroll did manage to go out but he couldn’t even set one lap, as an absurd incident between him and Latifi when neither of them was in a timed lap meant a red lap halted Q1 when only two minutes were left.
The session was resumed and one of Aston Martin’s drivers’ misfortune meant that the other, Vettel, had one chance at a timed lap. The fact that there were only 120 seconds left made it so that drivers were out for blood in the out lap, but only Schumacher managed to save himself after the battle. Williams’ misfortune wasn’t over yet, as Albon was asked to stop only two turns away from the pit entry. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Albon (P16), Magnussen (P17), Vettel (P18), Latifi (P19) and Stroll (P20).
Red Bull and Ferrari went all out since the very beginning of Q2, but Alonso somehow split up both Red Bulls, who were in first and third. Mercedes, still not doing their best, prompted the first yellow flag and an investigation due to Pérez not slowing down in the second session on qualifying, but both had squeezed into the top 10 with half the time to go. The last two minutes saw enough changes of position in the timing tower to fear Hamilton not making it through, but the Brit eventually lowered his time and was safely into Q3. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Gasly (P11), Bottas (P12), Tsunoda (P13), Zhou (P14) and Schumacher (P16).
Q3 saw the “natural” order somehow return, with a top ten not that different from the one we’ve been used to in previous seasons. Darker visors were required by drivers, as the sun starting to come down was hitting them in the eyes. The second red flag came courtesy of Alonso’s hydraulics system, which didn’t allow the Spanish driver to reduce gears and stop his car before he crashed into the wall.
The fight for pole was expected to go down between Ferrari and Red Bull, while Mercedes drivers were being notified that they were tight on time for their strategy. Leclerc managed to snag pole at the last second, taking it away from Verstappen, who had grabbed onto it for most of the session. Sainz, however, could only be ninth due to problems out of his hand, joining his friend Alonso in the fifth row.
Australia has welcomed F1 back with wide open arms, retouching Albert Park for the first racing weekend in Melbourne since the infamous 2020 GP, cancelled only at the last second possible, which ends the three-year drought without a race celebrated down under. McLaren and Mercedes are back in Q3, showing decent pace and blocking out positions between fourth and seventh. It was bittersweet for Ferrari, as the Italian team was both on pole and ninth, when they could have easily been together at the front, while Red Bull finished strong.