This is probably my favourite qualifying of the whole season (with Monaco a very, very close second). Why? The obvious answer really. Because after months of top secret car development, behind the scenes testing, official testing and posturing from the teams, it is finally time for the drivers to drop their trousers and show what they’ve got (or not got as the case may be). And who doesn’t love Melbourne – great track, got a super cool party vibe going on and has amazing fans.
So imagine my delight to wake up this morning and discover that qualifying coverage had not been recorded due to a random power cut. I should just clarify that I was actually awake while live qualifying was on but was at the time trying to manage/pacify/feed/referee two small children and so was saving myself for a blissful hour or two of uninterrupted (ish) qualifying later in the morning. Best laid plans and all that.
I then realised that I couldn’t even watch the reshowing as I was taking the 7 year old to a Reconciliation Service (the new Confession – who knew?) so I have probably been the very last person on the planet with even an inkling of interest in F1 who watched qualifying.
So what went down in Melbourne?
Its plus ça change at the very top – Mercedes have launched full-out blitzkrieg on the rest of the pack with an absolutely astonishing first quali performance. And it was reigning World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, who took first blood again to grab pole position ahead of his team-mate Nico Rosberg by almost 0.6 seconds. Lewis qualified 1.4 seconds ahead of Felipe Massa in 3rd place which is a jaw-dropping margin in F1 terms. Mercedes already look in a class of their own (something that was abundantly clear from winter testing). Are Mercedes about to head off into the distance never to be caught again this season? Probably. Ominously Lewis Hamilton hailed this year’s car as the best car he has ever driven. If we want there to be a race on our hands tomorrow, we will need Rosberg to pull a sensational start out of the bag.
Williams demonstrated that their impressive form of last season was not a flash in the pan with P3 and P6 on the grid for Massa and Bottas respectively. Come to think of it, Massa had a fantastic end to the 2014 season so perhaps he is continuing on that upwards trajectory. Certainly out-qualifying the two Ferraris (whose drivers have 5 world championships between them) was a superb effort although the price Felipe will pay is to have Vettel and Raikkonen revving up behind him on the grid tomorrow. Good luck with that one. I still almost have to do a double-take when I see Vettel in the red Scuderia overalls. But great to see a German back racing for Ferrari once again – Vettel follows in some mighty footsteps. I hope he has a great race tomorrow – he is so obviously living his dream at Ferrari and is like a giant kid in a candy store (albeit one that makes big shiny red cars).
Drivers who probably aren’t living the dream at the moment are Sebastian Vettel’s replacement, Daniil Kvyat who managed a distinctly mediocre P13 (ouch) and Daniel Ricciardo who plonked his Red Bull on P7 which speaks volumes about his incredible driving ability and volumes about the lack of improvement in the Renault engine. Red Bull are apparently severely unimpressed (it is admittedly hard to imagine Christian Horner being incandescent but he has the steely eyes of someone you would not want to piss off). And as for that whole ‘Adrian Newey is stepping down from day-to-day involvement’ spiel. Well he’s been at all the tests and is in Australia this weekend. Its fair to say he’s not there for the Moet and taking selfies of himself in front of garages (as I so will be in Spa in August!!). I imagine Helmut Marko will be seeking him out with a blank cheque-book this weekend.
As I tweeted earlier, the best thing about quali (I love when F1 throws up a genuine surprise and even so when it comes from a previously struggling team) was the cracking performance from the two Lotus drivers (and the Lotus team generally), Grosjean and Maldonado – two drivers who have been given a hard time in the past but definitely have real talent – to take P9 and P10 respectively. How fabulous would it be if they could convert that into points in tomorrow’s race. And to add a further dollop of spice to things, they are flanked by two rookies. Carlos Sainz Jr making his debut for Toro Rosso, did the equivalent of “Max Verstappen…who?” by qualifying 4 places ahead of his much talked-up team-mate. Way to get noticed Carlos! And behind the two Lotuses, we have the other rookie, Felipe Nasr driving for Sauber, who is the latest Brazilian racing wunderkind to rock up in F1.
Talking of Sauber, only the most stone-hearted (though there are probably a few of those kicking about in F1) would fail to have a bit of sympathy for Giedo van der Garde (who I remembering once calling the “New Narain” – where oh where is Narain now?) who secured a drive for Sauber in 2015 only to be told the team were going with the super-rich sponsors bankrolling Nasr and Ericsson instead. The smaller teams in F1 do face huge financial challenges but I think Nico Hulkenberg summed it up just right saying “They were desperate for some money to survive, which is maybe a general problem of F1. But still that is not a way to do business and to screw people like this.”
On the eve of the race (presumably after a few urgent phone calls between Bernie/Charlie W, Peter Sauber and Giedo’s lawyers), Giedo agreed to drop his legal action and thereby avoid placing Sauber in contempt of court if they didn’t let him race. Poor guy – hope he get a lucky break soon.
And so we come to McLaren. Oh dear Lord. Have one of F1’s pre-eminent and most respected teams ever fallen from grace quite as rapidly as McLaren? Possibly Williams but even they didn’t quite plumb these depths. Or Lotus in the 1980s but their decline was much more gradual. Its not that McLaren are now scrapping around at the lower end of the grid. They are The End of The Grid. With Manor’s no-show at qualifying having had to contend with wiped hard drives (prior to their aborted sale) and only 3 weeks to build a 2015 car, McLaren’s two drivers are stone bottom. Alas for poor Jenson Button who predicted this calamitous outcome was a possibility in qualifying. Even then I dismissed it as ‘managing expectations’ chat. The mind boggles as to what Alonso must be making of it all back home in Spain. But then the mind boggles as to what exactly is going on with Alonso and at McLaren full stop. These are dark, dark days. Right now Ron Dennis must feel like he is dying a thousand deaths in full, unforgiving global view. The upside this is only race no.1. The downside is there are still 19 qualifying sessions and 20 races to go.
So it is First Race Eve – a little bit like Christmas Eve for all F1 fans. And there is so so SO much to look forward to…
- No more fugly noses so slightly nicer looking cars this season. This makes me very happy.
- It’s the debut race in Formula 1 for three drivers tomorrow, one of whom will make history as the youngest driver ever in F1 (my 17 old self spent a lot of time coping with angst, drinking cheap cider in fields and listening to James but hey that’s how we rolled back in 1992).
- Ferrari is back in the building and has some semblance of form after a few lean old years.
- Mercedes might be unbeatable but the chasing pack is as tightly bunched together as it has been in a very long time – the key battles are shaping up to be Williams v Ferrari and Red Bull v Toro Rosso v Lotus (and Sauber and, to a lesser extent, Force India aren’t too shabby). So that basically just leaves McLaren as the new Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards of Formula 1.
So Happy Mother’s Day to me for tomorrow – to whoever finalises the race schedule, I salute you!