Lewis Hamilton Takes Pole Number Fifty ahead of the Australian Grand Prix
By: S. Harding, Xiro Xone News March 19, 2016 Updated 2:11 PM
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton took his 50th pole ahead of the Australian Grand Prix from after topping the time sheets in the new qualifying format debut that saw mixed responses.
Hamilton showed how adaptable of a driver he is by putting down a lap of 1:23.837 to finish three-tenths of a second ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg as the German marque locked out the front row of the grid for the first race of the year.
“I have to take my hat off to the team. What they’ve done to raise the bar once more, for the third year in a row, really inspires and motivates me. I really enjoyed driving the car in qualifying today. We got the setup just right and they were some sexy laps! They felt so good – flowing nicely with no real mistakes. That’s all you can hope for – to always improve – and that’s what we’ve done, so I’m very happy. There’s still a lot of work left to do tonight and especially tomorrow, though. There’s a lot more studying for us drivers with the changes to the radio rules. We can’t be told if the strategy is changing through the race, so we have to be able to anticipate what’s happening if you end up in a different situation than expected. I’m excited. It’s a new thing and I hope it adds to the spectacle. I highly doubt it… but we shall see,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also becames the third driver in the history of the sport to rack up 50 pole positions, joining Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher on the all time poles list.
One of the take aways of the session was that of the new qualifying format, pole being decided with four minutes remaining in the session, to beef things up and get more cars on track, .
The new format soon claimed teams that mis-timed their laps as both Haas F1 drivers were eliminated in Q1. Esteban Gutierrez did not manage to improve his lap time before the 90-second time limit expired leaving him P20 on the grid behind his teammate Romain Grosjean.
Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat was another victim, being knocked out in P18 and joined by Sauber drivers, Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson The latter being eliminated after a last-ditch improvement by Jolyon Palmer.
Valtteri Bottas was a surprise elimination in Q2 as he failed to improve on a late lap, leaving him 11th on the grid for Williams. Both Force India drivers, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg sat in the pits to finish P9 and P10 respectively.
“As for the new qualifying system, we need to see how the fans react. I think it’s a system that favours the big teams and puts more pressure on the middle of the grid because any mistake during your lap means you will almost certainly be eliminated. You don't have any opportunity to go out again and improve your time, which adds a lot of pressure - much more on us than on bigger teams. It's not just pressure for the drivers, it is for everyone in the team, also the mechanics and engineers - you're in a race against the clock just for the opportunity to get another lap in.
“We still have question marks about how the race will unfold, but I think pretty much everyone on the grid is in the same position because of the limited running in the dry. It will be an interesting Sunday and we have the potential to score good points,” Perez said.
McLaren-Honda were unable to reach Q3 with Fernando Alonso being eliminated after a fast lap from Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr. dropped him into the red zone. Alonso qualified 13th ahead of his teammate Jenson Button while Jolyon Palmer and Renault teammate Kevin Magnussen finished 14th and 15th.
“It was a pretty busy qualifying, obviously as it was the first one with the new system. It really built up and we were going quicker and quicker all the time so you had to make sure you kept your head above the water and not get knocked out. We’re happy to be in Q2; we didn’t really expect much more. I hadn’t done many laps in the dry here so I was trying to build up to it a little bit and then on the last lap, I knew I had to give it everything. It was enough to make Q2 so happy days!,” Palmer said.
Kevin Magnussen: “We didn’t think we would be as strong as we were today, we hadn’t expected to get out of Q1 and actually we got both cars through. My lap wasn’t perfect, there was more to get out of the car so that is encouraging. It was frustrating that things didn’t go our way in Q2, we had traffic which meant we didn’t get a chance to set a better time, but qualifying is the same for everyone and at some point it will work out in our favour.”
The first laps in Q3 defined positions on the grid. Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen was the lead driver after a very impressive team display from Toro Rosso with Sainz finishing seventh.
Max Verstappen said: “It was a good qualifying session, especially after FP3, where I was struggling a bit with the car. We managed to turn it around and to be P5 – a career best – here in Melbourne is a great achievement by the whole team! If I’m honest, I’m a bit surprised with the result – I thought Q3 was maybe possible, but to be here in P5 is definitely a better result than we expected. I think this new qualifying system is quite tricky because you only have one lap to perform, but I liked it. Over the winter the team did a great job and now we need to enjoy this moment and get ready for tomorrow’s race. I’m definitely looking forward to it!”
Carlos Sainz said: “We can be happy with our first qualifying session of the season – a P5 and a P7 here in Australia is a great result for the team! I’m pleased with my starting position and even though in Q3 I wasn’t able to repeat a strong lap like I did in Q2, a P7 is a good starting point for tomorrow’s race. The car feels really good and the hard work we’ve done over the winter is starting to pay off. It was quite a hectic and tricky session for us, but we hope the fans enjoyed this new format. We’ve got good pace and our objective tomorrow will be to hopefully go forward and score as many points as possible. We need to aim for that top seven, and I’m certainly looking forward to that challenge, it will be a fun race!”
With Felipe Massa spliting the two Toro Rossos in sixth the hometown hero Daniel Ricciardo finished eighth for Red Bull.
“To make it into Q3 is good, we expected to more or less be in the top eight. Another tenth would have probably given us a couple of more positions, but that’s always the way. As for the new qualifying system, Q1 and Q2 seemed okay, the clock ticking down added a bit more pressure and it might have been a bit more exciting for the fans, but Q3 didn’t seem to work as well, it was a bit weird to have the session still going and all the drivers out of their cars,” Ricciardo said.
Tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix will seek to remedy the mixed feelings of Saturday as F1 cars go wheel-to-wheel for the first time since last November.