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Qualifying analysis - is Vettel invincible? 26 Mar 2011

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB7.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 26 March 2011 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 26 March 2011 Nick Heidfeld (GER) Lotus Renault GP R31.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 26 March 2011 Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams FW33.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, 26 March 2011 Jerome d'Ambrosio (BEL) Virgin Racing MVR-02.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 25 March 2011

Final practice and qualifying went a long way towards alleviating the worst fears about the degradation of Pirelli’s tyres, and the general conclusion of the day was that the Italian rubber performed better than expected. But the speed of Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull RB& struck fear into rivals’ hearts as only McLaren could take the fight to them and Ferrari and Mercedes were left disappointed…

Red Bull
Sebastian Vettel, 1m 23.529s, P1
Mark Webber, 1m 24.395s, P3

Vettel said that he was as surprised as anyone by the dominance of his 16th career pole, and the eighth-tenths margin over Hamilton, especially as he did not even use KERS to achieve it, prompting speculation that Red Bull's RB7 may feature a unique, lightweight KERS system designed to be used only at the race start. The champion’s speed left team mate Mark Webber, who similarly did not use the energy storage system, completely bemused, and pondering the significance of being able to get every ounce of grip out of the soft Pirellis. As Hamilton said, the gap was “staggering.”

Lewis Hamilton, 1m 24.307s, P2
Jenson Button, 1m 24.779s, P4

McLaren were delighted with second and fourth on the grid, after all their disappointments in pre-season testing. But the huge gap to Red Bull was seriously indigestible food for thought. Hamilton said his MP4-26 felt really good and that he got everything out of the lap, though he lost a couple of tenths as his KERS stopped working with 40 percent still left. Besides losing power, that also compromised the brake balance. Button said his lap was compromised slightly by Rosberg and Massa.

Fernando Alonso, 1m 24.974s, P5
Felipe Massa, 1m 25.599s, P8

Fifth and eighth places were a big disappointment for Ferrari. Alonso was non-plussed as to why Ferrari’s Friday speed deserted him in Saturday’s slightly warmer temperatures. Massa had squeaked through into Q2 and spun in Turn One on his final out-lap on tyres that had yet to reach temperature, and was lucky to get his place on the fourth row.

Vitaly Petrov, 1m 25.247s, P6
Nick Heidfeld, 1m 27.239s, P18

By contrast, Petrov found a lot of speed from his Renault and was the other surprise of qualifying. The Russian has team mate Heidfeld under control, and after an off-course moment the German veteran was bumped from Q1 by Massa in the dying moments.

Mercedes GP
Nico Rosberg, 1m 25.421s, P7
Michael Schumacher, 1m 25.971s, P11

Mercedes, like Ferrari, were disappointed, especially after their speed in the final test in Barcelona had left them expecting much more. Rosberg admitted to an error on his best lap, while Schumacher missed the Q3 cut by 0.089s

Kamui Kobayashi, 1m 25.626s, P9
Sergio Perez, 1m 26.108s, P13

Sauber were a revelation, and had he had a final set of soft tyres left Kobayashi believed he could have been as high as sixth. Perez was unable to run his final set because of a fuel pressure problem, and complained of traffic as his best lap left him as the best rookie in 13th place.

Toro Rosso
Sebastien Buemi, 1m 27.066, P10
Jaime Alguersuari, 1m 26.103s, P12

Buemi used up all his new tyres making it through to Q3 and an eventual 10th on the grid for the first time for Toro Rosso since 2009, but it was a worthy effort that backed up the STR6’s pre-season form. Alguersuari said his team mate just did a better job than he did this time.

Force India
Paul di Resta, 1m 26.739s, P14
Adrian Sutil, 1m 31.407s, P16

Sutil spun exiting the final corner on his best lap, and though he did a mega save as the Force India went one way before suddenly snapping into the other, he lost that one and of course the next so lined up 16th. Rookie Di Resta again impressed with his speed and calm confidence on his way to an excellent 14th.

Pastor Maldonado, 1m 26.768s, P15
Rubens Barrichello, no time, P17

Qualifying turned into a disaster for Williams when Barrichello spun on his out-lap in Q2 and failed to go any further. Ever one to seek positives, he pointed out that at least he saved tyres for the race. Maldonado did what he could, which wasn’t better than 15th.

Heikki Kovalainen, 1m 29.254s, P19
Jarno Trulli, 1m 29.342s, P20

Kovalainen’s second run in Q1 was compromised when the rear wing stuck in high-downforce mode, and Trulli had yet more power steering problems, so though it was frustrated, the newly returned Team Lotus had underlying reason not to be disappointed.

Timo Glock, 1m 29.858s, P21
Jerome D'Ambrosio, 1m 30.822s, P22

Qualifying again revealed how much work Virgin have still to do as they fought to beat the 107 percent rule. Glock and rookie D’Ambrosio were successful, and the German got close still to the Lotuses, which was a boost, but overall the MVR-02’s performance was disappointing.

Tonio Liuzzi, 1m 32.978s, P23 DNQ
Narain Karthikeyan, 1m 34.293s, P24 DNQ

HRT performed another miracle in getting both of their cars out and running, and Liuzzi’s performance, from only a handful of laps in Q1, was astonishing given his lack of running this weekend. Neither he nor Karthikeyan was able to beat the 1m 31.266s exclusion mark under the newly reintroduced 107 percent rule, so each failed to qualify. They could, however, draw some satisfaction from the knowledge that the Geoff Willis/Paul White-designed F111 is fundamentally a much better car than the F110.

David Tremayne

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