FIA F1 - Australian GP Qualifying Report

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Melbourne, Mar. 17, 2012: McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button got their 2012 world championship campaign off to the best possible start as they took the top two positions on the grid for the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park on Saturday evening, and just to make things even better for the Woking team, Romain Grosjean put his Lotus third ahead of Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes and the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.

Nobody got near to Hamilton’s 1m 24.922s, but Button’s 1m 25.074s put him ahead of Schumacher, who had improved to 1m 25.336s. The German’s time, however, was not sufficient to resist Grosjean’s 1m 25.302s, making it a tremendous return to full-time Formula One racing for the Frenchman.

For once the Red Bulls had no answer to their opposition, and Webber’s 1m 25.651s just edged out Vettel’s 1m 25.668s, with Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg a disappointing seventh on 1m 25.686s.

Pastor Maldonado will have his best Grand Prix start with eighth for Williams, on 1m 25.908s, while Nico Hulkenberg put his Force India ninth on 1m 26.451s. Daniel Ricciardo will start 10th for Toro Rosso, but did not record a time, as the team conserved rubber.

Earlier, Q2 had got off to a dramatic start when Fernando Alonso lost his Ferrari in the entry to Turn One, spearing backwards into the gravel. Just to rub it in for the Scuderia, at that very moment Hamilton and Button put their McLarens first and second, before the session was red flagged for five minutes to recover the F2012.

Right up until the end it seemed that Alonso’s 1m 26.494s might keep him in the top 10, but in the end he was bumped by Hulkenberg and Maldonado.

Jean-Eric Vergne got bumped by his own Toro Rosso team mate Ricciardo, his 1m 26.429s leaving him 11th for his Formula One debut ahead of Alonso, then came Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi on 1m 26.590s, Williams’ Bruno Senna on 1m 26.663s and a very disappointed Paul di Resta on 1m 27.086s for Force India.

To complete a disastrous day for Ferrari, Felipe Massa was only 16th on 1m 27.497s. It was also a disappointment for Sauber, as gearbox problems kept Sergio Perez from running. He qualified 17th on the grid but, after the team decided to change the box on his C31, he dropped to 22nd.

Q1 had seen the shock elimination of Kimi Raikkonen on his return to F1, as he got caught out on the hard tyres as the rest of the field switched to softs and could only muster 1m 27.758s after a major wobble. Grosjean’s performance only underlined what might have been for the Finn. Behind him, 19th and 20th places were a big disappointment for Caterham, with Heikki Kovalainen on 1m 28.679s and Vitaly Petrov on 1m 29.018s. Marussia were very happy with Timo Glock’s 1m 30.923s, while Charles Pic impressed again with 1m 31.670s in his first F1 qualifying session. After Perez's penalty, however, Raikkonen, Kovalainen, Petrov, Glock and Pic all move up a place on the Melbourne grid.

Neither Pedro de la Rosa nor Narain Karthikeyan passed the 107 percent qualifying time, with 1m 33.495s and 1m 33.643s apiece, and will not race on Sunday.

Karthikeyan, Ricciardo and De la Rosa were investigated by the stewards for allegedly hindering Alonso, Schumacher and Kovalainen respectively. Whilst Karthikeyan and De la Rosa received reprimands, no further action was taken in the Ricciardo case.

It could yet be a long night in Melbourne, however, as there is talk that Red Bull and Lotus may decide to protest the much-talked-about 'F-duct rear wing' on the Mercedes.

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