Malaysian Grand Prix: Mercedes Assert Dominance

It was a Mercedes 1-2 finish at today’s Malaysian Grand Prix with Lewis Hamilton securing the win from pole position. Team mate Nico Rosberg made an early dart to second position from Sebastian Vettel before reaching the first corner. The Red Bull driver, while laying a number of attempts on Rosberg, was forced to settle for the third step on the podium.

For the second time in the 2014 season, 21 cars lined up on the grid, and one Sergio Perez in the pit lane. In stark contrast to qualifying, Sepang was bone dry for lights out. Hamilton had a clean getaway and was first into turn 1, though it was team mate Nico Rosberg who had the advantage, sneaking his way passed an unsuspecting Sebastian Vettel. The Red Bull did not go down without a fight, and kept the pressure on Rosberg through the first two corners, before the straight line speed of the Mercedes succeeded over the Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo made up a position on Alonso into the first corner, and by turn 3 the pack, lead by Hamilton followed as Rosberg, Vettel, Ricciardo, and Alonso.

Hamilton was unchallenged from pole position to finish on the top step of the podium. The Mercedes grew his lead from the opening laps to more than three seconds. The Brit’s run went largely without incident, having only to look after his tyres in the final stint of the race. Rosberg only asserted Mercedes advantage by leap frogging Vettel to cruise in P2 for the race. Though under pressure by a hungry Red Bull, the team pushed to lengthen the gap to Vettel, and Rosberg obliged.

Though still back on familiar ground, Sebastian Vettel finished on the podium once again for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Red Bull, though instantly conceding his P2 starting position, worked hard to catch the Mercedes of Rosberg, coming within DRS several times. It seemed however that the German could only manage to maintain a three second chase on the Mercedes. It would seem that absolutely nothing can wipe the smile from Ricciardo’s face. The Australian got off to a strong start, initially making up a grid position, though following a botched pit stop in which the RB10s front left tyre was improperly secured, Ricciardo was handed a penalty for unsafe release. Ricciardo took the news in stride and delivered a competitive drive to make up the lost positions, that is until lap 49 when the team called him in to box to retire. To make matters worse, the stewards felt that the in race penalty was not enough for the team, so Ricciardo has also been handed a 10 place grid penalty for the upcoming round in Bahrain. It’s ok though, Ricciardo views this as “character building”…

Ferrari’s driver line up appears to chalk and cheese when you look at driving styles. Alonso, remains calm and level headed, while Raikkonen is aggressive form the get go, though at times to his own disadvantage. While his team mate crossed the line in a very respectable P4, Raikkonen found himself on the back foot from the opening laps after contact with Magnussen’s McLaren costing him valuable positions. The Ferrari driver suffered a rear puncture and by the time he’d limped back to the pits, he was more than half a lap down on the field. Though Alonso might not have got himself in a position to have contact with another driver, I doubt whether he could have come back as determined as Raikkonen. The Finn took advantage of pit strategies throughout the race to make his way through the back markers, and came close to making it back into the points. However, former team mate, Romain Grosjean ensured that Kimi only made it as far as P12.

Sergio Perez was set to start from the pit lane, suffered from mechanical issues before the race even begun and did not start. Nico Hulkenberg was unphased by the issues with his team mate’s VJM07 and delivered yet another phenomenal race. Starting on the grid in P7, Hulkenberg maintained a strong pace, despite a threat of approaching rain, and was able to run a two stop strategy for the race. The strategy allowed him to comfortably move up to P5, proving yet again that he is a driver to watch.

McLaren’s, Jensen Button finished the race in P6, ahead of Kevin Magnussen in P9. The Brit made up four grid positions during the race, despite his concerns for reliability for his MP4-29 in the heat. Kevin Magnussen had a difficult race compared to the season opener in Australia. Magnussen made contact early on with Raikkonen, costing them both track positions, and resulting in the McLaren being handed down a stop go penalty. Despite the penalty, the Danish driver delivered a competitive race, holding back the two Williams of Massa and Bottas before coming in to the pits to serve his penalty.

It wouldn’t be a Malaysian Grand Prix without someone disobeying team orders, and this year the shoes were filled by Felipe Massa who chose to ignore orders from his pit wall to let team mate Valtteri Bottas passed. The original order of “Bottas is faster than you” was made with haunting familiarity, but as it came in the final stint of the race the Williams team could do nothing but watch as the Brazilian stood his ground and refused to surrender his position to his team mate. For a while both the Williams’ were held up by the McLaren, though Bottas could never make a clean move on his team mate. Determined not to become another clear number 2 driver, Massa deliberately disobeyed his engineers order to let Bottas passed. Given that the driver order would make no difference to the constructors points,  I feel this was the right decision by Massa. Though harsh words may be spoken tonight, both Williams finished in the points with Massa P7, and Bottas in P8.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat took the last point for the Malaysian Grand Prix after defending his position to Magnussen. The Russian driver first defended well from Magnussen for the final point position. Despite the McLaren eventually making his way through, Kvyat was able to maintain his P10 position following pit stops and retirements from the race. Jean-Eric Vergne had a very slow getaway from the grid with what appeared to be an issue with the STR9s turbo. The issue soon became terminal as the Toro Rosso was told to box and retire on lap 18.

In what can be considered a great success for Lotus, Romain Grosjean not only finished the race in P11, but put the E22 through it’s paces to defend his position from former team mate, Kimi Raikkonen. The pair were engaged in wheel to wheel action in the final laps of the race, even coming together on the entrance to turn 1 a few times. Both cars emerged unscathed from their little bumps, and Grosjean managed to hold off the Finn to cross the line P11. The other side of the Lotus garage would have less to celebrate as Pastor Maldonado was told to box and retire on lap 7 for an issue with his power unit.

Caterham, for the first time since 2012, are on their way to being placed tenth in the constructors standings after both Kobayashi and Ericsson finished the race in P13 and P14 respectively. Kobayashi was even able to make a two stop strategy work for the race in hot track conditions, the only other driver able to do so was Hulkenberg, so this is a massive positive for the team in terms of reliability and performance. Marcus Ericsson, while on a three stop strategy delivered a good race for his first time in Malaysia, again showing promise for the team.

No sooner do I insist Marussia to be a reliable team on the grid set to have both cars finish, do they have retire Bianchi from the race, (Sorry guys, I hope I didn’t jinx you). Though the cause of retirement was less to do with reliability and more to do with the contact made with Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado in the opening stages of the race. Bianchi came together with Maldonado on the entry into turn 2, damaging both cars. The stewards deemed the collision Bianchi’s fault, and was ordered to take a 5 second stop go penalty. Shortly after however, the team retired Bianchi on lap 8. The remaining Marussia of Max Chilton, went on the reliably finish the race in P15 following the seven retirements from the race.

It was disappointment in the Sauber garage with a double retirement for the team. Sutil was the first retirement on lap 32 with issues with the Ferrari power unit, shortly followed by Gutierrez with gearbox issues on lap 35.

Despite a dry race at Sepang, the circuit still managed to deliver a thrilling race in hot conditions. There were a few good battles for positions, and shuffling of the pack as the stewards were more heavy handed than usual with their race penalties. For now, the championship moves to the Middle East for the Bahrain Grand Prix this Sunday, a track were all teams should be familiar with the circuit following winter testing. Unfortunately, alelbuth on tour temporarily ends in Malaysia, until the British Grand Prix. So until next week, selamat tinggal!

– Alex

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Nico Rosberg (McLaren-Mercedes)
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Fastest Lap 1:43.006 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

 

Malaysian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Selamat datang ke Malaysia! The Formula 1 Championship moves to Asia for the first time in the 2014 season for the Malaysian Grand Prix held and Sepang International Circuit. The 5.543km track runs clockwise, and boasted every elements needed for an exhilarating circuit. Drivers must snake their way through the right hand hairpin of turn 1 and avoid lock-ups, before immediately turning back for the left hand hairpin of turn 2. The track then opens out into a long sweeping right hander before another series of sweeping corners in sector 2. Turn 9 however into sector 3 puts a lot of pressure on the brakes. The third sector ends with a high speed straight before the final hairpin at turn 15. Having driven this track myself*, I know just how crucial it is to get the correct line out of a corner to ensure you’ve got the speed through the winding circuit. This really is one of the best circuits on the calendar. True to form, Malaysia delivered torrential rain which saw qualifying delayed while we waited for the track to resemble less of a river. Once the session finally got underway, it was Lewis Hamilton who secured pole position for the second race in a row, ahead of team mate Nico Rosberg in P3. Sebastian Vettel found himself in P2 between the two Mercedes.

Both the Mercedes were the dominating force in qualifying, proving still to be the quickest package this season. Hamilton looked at home in the wet throughout the session, remaining firmly at the top of the time sheets. The rain persisted during qualifying, allowing for Hamilton to run the intermediate only in Q1, opting for full wets for the remainder of the afternoon. In the end it was time of 1:59.431 on full wets that secured Hamilton pole position. Nico Rosberg was equally as quick during qualifying, though deteriorating track conditions in Q3 proved difficult for the German.

Sebastian Vettel was back to his usual form, securing P2 on the grid after a rocky start due to an issue with the RB10’s energy store. Once the RB10 was reset, however, Vettel found the qualifying pace that was missing in Australia. Though the Red Bull is looking more reliable than in Australia, the RB10 isn’t quite up to scratch in terms of straight line speed, so it will be down to a downforce package to maintain position. Proving that his performance in Australia was not a fluke, Daniel Ricciardo looked at home in the RB10 and the rain. Sitting at the top end of the time sheets, the Australian was bumped down to P5 in Q3, though still in front of the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, which (let’s face it) is pretty impressive on it’s own.

Ferrari are undoubtably quick around Sepang, with both Alonso and Raikkonen delivering strong performances in qualifying. Fernando Alonso, despite suffering from a disconnected front left track rod in Q2 was close to making the second row of the grid before being edged out by Rosberg to start P4. Kimi Raikkonen appeared more comfortable in the Ferrari than Australia, though still can’t quite match the pace of the Spaniard. Kimi eventually qualified P6

Nico Hulkenberg gave yet another impressive performance throughout qualifying, proving not only his talent as a driver, but the potential of the VJM07, securing P7. While team mate, Sergio Perez was not as comfortable in the track conditions. Perez couldn’t find the grip or the pace enough to follow Hulkenberg in Q3. Eventually setting a lap time of 2:02.511 for P14, more than a second than a half slower than his team mate.

McLaren, after being plagued with software issues in practice, finally managed to get both MP4-29s under control, only to opt for the wrong tyre strategies throughout qualifying. Both Magnussen and Button headed out on full wets in Q1, despite the rest of the grid opting for the intermediates, and both cars struggled with lack of grip. Luckily both the McLarens made it through to the next session. Kevin Magnussen had luck on his side after taking a very quick stroll through the gravel trap at the hairpin of turn 15, making it through to Q3 to eventually qualify in P8. Jensen Button was no luckier with his choice in tyres, though he too had a place in Q3. In the final minutes of qualifying, Button swapped his full wets for a set of intermediates, hoping to take advantage of a dry line. However, there wasn’t one. The Brit’s McLaren therefore rounds out the top ten in P10.

Jean-Eric Vergne largely avoided incident in qualifying, playing it safe and securing good lap times on the full wet tyres. The track conditions seemed to favour the Frenchman’s STR9, securing himself a place in Q3 to eventually qualify P9 with 2:03.078. Daniil Kvyat escaped penalties from the race stewards after making contact with Fernando Alonso at turn 9. Taking the inside line of the corner, Kvyat’s suffered a lock up, colliding with the Ferrari. The incident occurred before anyone had set a lap time in Q2, and saw the session momentarily red flagged. When the session resumed, Kvyat stayed in the garage, eventually coming out to wet track conditions. Determined to make it through to Q3 for the second round in a row, the Russian rookie sat on the cusp of the drop off zone, only to be pushed out by his team mate. Kvyat’s final flying lap time of 2:02.351 will see him start P11.

Esteban Gutierrez was lucky to make it through to Q2, not for any fault of his own, but the Sauber driver was dangerously close to colliding with an out of control Ericsson in the final minutes of Q1. Possibly due to the adrenaline that surely kicked in, Gutierrez put in a determined drive in the following session, setting purple sector times through the sweeping second sector. Though the Mexican didn’t make it to the final qualifying session, he did manage to get his Sauber C33 up as far as P12. Team mate, Adrian Sutil looked less comfortable in the car, and in the wet conditions. Sutil’s C33 twitched it’s way through turns 1 and 2, and only worsened as the rain picked up again, eventually qualifying P18. Though given Bottas’ penalty, will start P17.

Williams were unlucky in qualifying when taking the risk to run the intermediate tyres. The gamble didn’t pay off as the rain picked up again, with absolutely no grip, both Massa and Bottas quickly pit for full wets. Felipe Massa, desperate to make it into Q3, managed another flying lap in Q2 once on the wets but only good enough for P13. Bottas gave a decent performance in the early stages of qualifying, really putting the Fw36 through it’s paces. However, later Valtteri Bottas was handed a three place grid penalty for impeding Daniel Ricciardo earlier in the session, moving is P15 qualifying to starting P18. Williams simply ran out of time in Q2, the laps lost running the intermediates were all that was needed to see both Massa and Bottas further up the grid.

Lotus had a unfortunate qualifying as Romain Grosjean suffered a spin at the turn 15 hairpin on his final attempt to make it into Q3. The Frenchman had been on a flying lap before the E22 lost control approaching Rosberg, who was on a slow lap. Settling for a qualifying position of P16, Grosjean moves up to P15 following Bottas’ grid penalty. Pastor Maldonado qualified behind his team mate, in P17 though will start P16. Despite qualifying at the back end of the grid, the fact that the E22 made it through all three practice sessions, and the first qualifying has to be seen as progress for the team ironing out the reliability issues that have plagued them so far.

Order was restored at Marussia with Jules Bianchi qualifying in P19, ahead of team mate Max Chilton in P21. Though the Marussia is not particularly quick package compared to the rest of the field, at least they are reliable, which at the start of the 2014 season could prove to be more advantageous than speed.

For their home race, neither Caterham made it out of Q1, as we round off the back end of the grid with Kamui Kobayashi in P20, and Marcus Ericsson P22. Kobayashi’s qualifying was largely without incident. Though, Marcus Ericsson learnt the hard way that you cannot use the kerbs when the track is wet. The Caterham rookie cut the end of Q1 short after the CT05 careered off the track, hitting a barrier and then collecting a sign. Ericsson was extremely lucky not to collide with the oncoming Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez.

Strategy for today’s race is completely dependent on rain, with most likely a three stop strategy for a dry race. If the rain holds off however, the track conditions are equally as difficult, though this time for heat and keeping the cars cool. Personally, I’m hoping for a wet race to close the gap between the field and lessen the issues of over heating. Undoubtably Mercedes will be quick during the race, though I’d watch to see what Williams do with the right tyre strategy. As always, the Malaysian Grand Prix promises to be a truly unmissable race.

– Alex

* Albiet, driven a remote control RB7 around a chalk outline of the circuit in a car park.

Australian Grand Prix: All Mercedes Podium, Just.

Emotions ran high over the weekend as Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was excluded from his second place finish in the Australian Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg took the chequered flag, while rookie driver for McLaren Kevin Magnussen set a record with a podium finish on his debut. Ricciardo’s exclusion from the race race subsequently moved Jensen Button up to round up the top three making it an all Mercedes powered podium.

For the first time in 2014, 21 cars lined up on the grid, and a lonely 1 from the pit lane, to welcome in a new era of Formula 1 racing. Max Chilton initially stalled on the grid during the formation lap, where teammate Jules Bianchi soon followed suit. Third time was the charm though as now with the pit lane lined with the Lotus of Romain Grosjean and two Marussia’s the race finally got underway. At lights out Nico Rosberg made a bold and calculated move from P3 straight through the middle of Hamilton and Ricciardo, where for the remainder of the race the field would be looking at the back of the F1 W05. Further back in the pack Kamui Kobayashi was causing havoc due to a brake failure. The Caterham made it as far as turn 1 before collecting the back of Felipe Massa’s Williams, immediately retiring the two.

Seemingly unphased by the unknown of the 2014 car in race conditions, Nico Rosberg led from lights out and as the raced progressed only grew his lead. In what appeared to be the most reliable car on the grid, the German driver eventually crossed the line a cool 24 seconds clear of Ricciardo. Lewis Hamilton suffering from a misfiring pulled off reluctantly into the pits on lap 3, where he became the third retirement of the afternoon.

Kevin Magnussen’s debut Formula 1 race couldn’t have gone better for the Danish rookie, with the McLaren driver not only picking up points in his first race, but finding himself comfortably on the podium. With experience beyond his years, Magnussen maintained P3 for the entirety of the race, saving enough power and grip in the final leg to stalk down Daniel Ricciardo. Unfortunately with Dane didn’t quite get there in time for the chequered flag, finishing an incredible P3. Despite being outshone by his teammate, Jensen Button’s first race of the season went much better than expected. The Brit while starting from a familiar P10 on the grid, made up positions in the opening laps. A good race pace coupled with a successful strategy from the pit was saw Button finish 3.3s behind his teammate. The return of Ron Dennis to the McLaren outfit appears to have worked wonders for the team, as (with the race exclusive of Ricciardo) saw both drivers finish in the top three.

Fernando Alonso made up for a poor start by stalking Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. Though the Ferrari appeared to place it safe against Nico and instead of risking an overtake, waited for the VJM07 to pit for it’s third and final stint. The Spaniard, while nursing similar issues with his F14 T as his teammate, continued his race with the same calm and calculative manner in which he’d followed Hulkenberg. The strategy paid off for the Ferrari as he eventually finished safely inside the points in P5. Kimi Raikkonen appeared to struggle for pace during the race. Despite initially making up 6 position from the grid in the opening laps of the Grand Prix, the Finn’s F14 T began to deteriorate and he fell back to P8. Shortly after the race the Ferrari’s were promoted to P4 and P7 when Daniel Ricciardo was excluded from his second place finish by the FIA.

Valtteri Bottas drove an extremely successful season opener, starting with cleanly executed move around the outside of Kimi Raikkonen at turn 3 on lap 8 to take P6. However, shortly after, the Finn made contact with the barriers between turns 9 and 10, resulting the the Fw36 deciding to shed it’s right rear wheel. Bottas limped back to the pits, only to return making light work of taking Ericsson, the Lotuses, and Sutil to cruise in P10. However,  managing to make up a few additional positions in the field saw the Finn finish P6, which was bumped up to P5. The Australian Grand Prix was shortest perhaps Felipe Massa, who was an instant retirement at turn 1 lap 1 when rear ended by Kobayashi*.

Back in a familiar garage, Nico Hulkenberg appeared comfortably at him in the VJM07 on race day. Although the Force India driver was robbed of what could have been exciting battles for position. In the opening stages of the race, Hulkenberg closed the gap to a slow moving Hamilton by lap 2, though cruised up to P4 as the Mercedes pulled in to retire. For several laps Hulkenberg had the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso preying on the back of the Force India. Hulkenberg drove confidently, though still at a competitive pace despite suffering a lock up on lap 20. Playing it safe, the team chose to pit Hulkenberg on lap 33 to allow the Ferrari passed. Spending most of his third stint in P5, the Force India conceded a position to Bottas to eventually finish P7. Sergio Perez had a slow opening stint of the race, which was then met by an unlucky kiss with Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber, causing the Force India to limp back to the pits with a puncture. Perez benefited from the retirements throughout the race, though came home just outside of the points in P11. However, following the decision by the FIA to exclude Daniel Ricciardo from the race results, Hulkenberg moves up to P6 and Perez took the final point it P10.

Toro Rosso were among to few to bring both cars home, with Jean-Eric Vergne finishing P9, and Daniil Kvyat inside the points at P10. Having both STR9s finish would be cause to celebrate on its own, though Kvyat’s controlled pace throughout was the real excitement. Vergne and Kvyat both move up to P8 and P9 with Ricciardo’s exclusion.

Adrian Sutil had a reasonably quiet race in the middle of the field, avoiding conflict while swapping positions with Ericsson, Kvyat, and Bottas throughout various stages of the race eventually finishing ahead of his teammate in P12. With the exception of the altercation with Perez’s Force India, Esteban Gutierrez managed to keep out of trouble to finish P13. Sutil and Gutierrez move up to P11 and P12 with Ricciardo’s exclusion.

Both Marussia’s started from the pit lane after stalling on the installation lap. While both MR03s took their place as backmarkers in the field, the Australian Grand Prix should still be considered a success for the team. Being one of only 6 teams to achieve a two car finish, Chilton continued his hot streak to finish ahead of his teammate in P14. Jules Bianchi rounded off the back of the field in P15.  Chilton has his “highest ever finish” in P13 as a result of retirements and Ricciardo’s exlcusion, while Bianchi finished P14.

For a car that wasn’t expected to finish a lap, Romain Grosjean’s E22 impressed the team making it to lap 43 before the Lotus’ energy recovery unit finally called it a day. The Frenchman put in a strong drive, and starting from the pitlane and then adhering to a drive through penalty, gained 6 positions before DRS had even been enabled. Though the E22 appeared to taper off as the race progressed, with Grosjean conceding a place to Sergio Perez, and then to his teammate, Pastor Maldonado. In his first race for Lotus, Pastor Maldonado did manage to stay relatively out of harms way. In the opening laps, like Grosjean, Maldonado made up several positions in the field to P13 by the end of lap 2. However, like his teammate, the E22 finally called it a day on lap 29. The Venezuelan driver even managed a much more subtle exit from the race than that of Monaco 2012.

The Caterham rookie, Marcus Ericsson was on what could have been a largely successful debut race, until on lap 29 his CT05 suffered from air and oil pressure failure resulting in the fifth retirement of the race. Kamui Kobayashi had a brief outing during the race, making it almost as far through the gravel pit into turn 1 as he had on the track. The Caterham’s CT05 had suffered from brake failure, and along with a wheel lock up, sent Kobayashi straight into the back of Felipe Massa.

Daniel Ricciardo’s debut race for Red Bull was flawless, holding his position of P2 in the opening laps of the race before maintaining pace and grip out the tyres. Only in the final stages of the race did the McLaren of Kevin Magnussen close the gap to the final remaining Red Bull. Despite the increased pressure from the McLaren, Ricciardo crossed the line P2 to an ear splitting roar of a approval from Albert Park. Sebastian Vettel however had a character building race, suffering from a loss of power in the early stages of the race. The reining world champion’s RB10 hardly resembled that of his teammate, and on lap 3 a very sick Red Bull entered the pit lane, not to emerge again. The German’s short race was met with a slow start and conceding 4 position.

Taking away from the season opener in Melbourne, it would definitely appear that Mercedes have developed the quickest package, though possibly not the most reliable in the case of Lewis Hamilton. Massa’s early retirement was disappointing as we failed to see just how strong the Mercedes power unit is, though Bottas’ pace and control of the Williams showed promise for the season to come. The decision of the FIA regarding Daniel Ricciardo’s exclusion is said to be announced within two weeks. Along with the vast majority of fans, I’ve my fingers crossed for his second place to be reinstated. Not only because Daniel deserved his step on the podium, but because as the points currently stand, Marussia are ahead of Red Bull Racing, and thats just not right.

– Alex

* We’ll leave the Caterham nose rear ending jokes to the imagination shall we.

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Kevin Magnussen (McLaren-Mercedes)
Jensen Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:32.478 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

Australian Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

G’day! The first stop of the 2014 Formula 1 Championship Season starts once again at Melbourne’s Albert Park. The 5.303 km circuit runs clockwise through a series of high speed corners mixed with hard braking points in the middle of each sector. The new Turbo V6 engines, while running an undoubtedly quick pace, are considerably quieter than their predecessors. This season’s cars don’t have the same “angry wasp” noise that have addicted fans, but alas, I’m sure we’ll learn to love the growl of the turbo engine. Previously the track favoured a high speed package, though this season a reliable package will see teams pick up points. Rumours in the paddock are that at least half the field are expected to retire. An exhilarating qualifying session certainly shuffled some of the grid around with deteriorating track conditions leaving three world champion drivers stranded in Q2.  Hamilton just managed to snatch pole position from homeboy, Daniel Ricciardo, much to the dismay of the crowd, while Nico Rosberg followed just behind the two.

Mercedes appear to have their package sorted for this weekend starting from the front two rows on the grid. Like most of the field, Lewis Hamilton made an early appearance in Q1 on the soft compound tyres to set a flying lap before the impending rain hit the circuit. When the rain did reach Albert Park, the F1 W05 immediately went to the top of the time sheets and only left briefly for the RB10 of Daniel Ricciardo and team mate Nico Rosberg. In the final moments of Q3, Hamilton managed to snatch pole from homeboy Ricciardo by 0.317s with a lap time of 1:44.231. Nico Rosberg, as usual, delivered throughout all three sessions proving to be (in my eyes at least) a serious contender for the Championship this season. The German driver made the wet track conditions appear easy, despite DRS being disabled in Q3. While occasionally sliding the F1 W05 through the circuit, Rosberg challenged both his team mate and Ricciardo for pole position. Rosberg eventually crossed the chequered flag to qualify P3 with 1:44.595.

Daniel Ricciardo stole the show today in his first qualifying session for Red Bull, posting consistent P1 times throughout all three qualifying sessions. The ever smiling Australian looked effortlessly confident and very at home in the RB10, despite varying and very difficult track conditions. After playing an exhilarating game of cat and mouse for pole position with the two Mercedes boys, Dan qualified in P2 with a 1:44.548, which leaves me to wonder; how many Weetbix are we feeding this kid? Surprisingly, Sebastian Vettel sat at the opposite end of the time sheets during today’s qualifying session. The reigning world champion failed to put a lap together to make it out of Q2 , but not for lack of trying. While the RB10 obviously had the pace, Vettel appeared much less comfortable in his new ride than his teammate, even touching the barriers on his flying lap. It’s bound to happen once in a blue moon, but tomorrow Vettel is qualifying P13, though starting P12.

Rookie driver for McLaren, Kevin “Mini Mag” Magnussen more than proved his Formula 1 seat in today’s session, excelling not only during the dry stages of Q1, but spending time near the top of the time sheets throughout the rest of the wet sessions putting in a final qualifying time of 1:45.745 to start alongside Ricciardo in P4. However, the Dane driver with Vettel, is currently under investigation by the race stewards for failing to observe the yellow flags at the end of Q2. Jensen Button’s crucial flying lap in Q2 was hindered by yellow flags waved after Raikkonen went into the barriers between turns 3 and 4. Subsequently the McLaren was eliminated on the cusp in Q2 to qualify P11 with 1:44.437 as his best posted lap time, though a later penalty for Bottas will see Button start P10. Despite a less than ideal session for the Brit, the McLaren appears to be one of the reliable cars on the grid this season.

Ferrari once again had a bipolar qualifying, both drivers appeared split in their ability to control the F14 T in wet conditions. Alonso definitely appeared to be more confident in this years car than his team mate, and except for suffering a lockup into turn 1 during Q1, had a relatively strong handle on the car. The Spaniard’s flying lap at the end of the Q1 session was compromised by Maldonado failing to move out of the way into turn 3 due to wheel spin. It was no surprise however that Alonso quickly recovered and made it through to the subsequent sessions. Despite being one of the driver’s to temporarily top the time sheets in Q3, the Ferrari veteran eventually qualified P5 with 1:45.819. Kimi Raikkonen despite being back on familiar ground seems less familiar with his new package. The Iceman appeared to still be struggling with the torque of the Ferrari, and in wet track conditions spun out at the end of Q2 while attempting to avoid traffic on a flying lap. The Finn would be less than impressed therefore with his best lap time of 1:44.494 only being good enough for P12. Though due to Bottas’ gearbox penalty, Kimi moves up to P11 on the grid.

In a rare turn of events, both Toro Rosso drivers made it through to Q3. Vergne and Kvyat wasted no time to make the most of the wet conditions, appearing a lot more comfortable with the package than during practice sessions. Jean-Eric Vergne put in a strong start to the season qualifying in P6 with a 1:45.864 on the intermediate tyres in wet conditions. However, slightly stealing the spotlight was team mate and rookie driver Daniil Kvyat who outshone a number of world champion drivers in his debut qualifying session. Despite a few offs at turn 9, the Russian driver set a flying lap time of 1:47.368, only 1.5 seconds behind his team mate, and good enough for P8.

The Force India VJM07 looked comfortable on the Albert Park Circuit despite the wet conditions of qualifying. Hulkenberg, who returns to the Force India seat after a season away got the most out of the package compared to his team mate, making through to Q3 to set a final flying lap of 1:46.030 to split to two Toro Rossos’ in P7. Perez struggled with the track conditions during Q2 and couldn’t maintain control of his VJM07 long enough to set a competitive lap time, along with a poorly timed change to intermediates, the best the Mexican could manage today was 1:47.293 for P16.

The new Williams package looks to be one of the more reliable cars on the grid for the start of the championship season. The FW36 with a Mercedes power unit has been strong throughout practice and when on a dry track. However, once rain hit Albert Park, Massa noticeably lost control over the car and slid through most the the twisty back half of the circuit. Despite losing the back end of the FW36, the Brazlian still managed a 1:48.079 to start P9. Bottas, while keeping his Williams more inline suffered from gearbox issues which slightly hindered his lap time, with his best result being 1:48.147 qualifying P10 to round out the top end of the grid. However a decision by the team to change his gearbox will see the Finn start P15.

Sauber’s performance in qualifying was not as strong as would be expected with a Ferrari power unit. New addition to the team, Adrian Sutil had a relatively smooth session inQ1, but struggled in the wet conditions failing to make it out of Q2 with a flying lap of 1:45.655 in the intermediate tyres. The German qualified P14, but will start P13. Gutierrez was plagued with a very challenging qualifying with possible residual gearbox issues from practice early today. The Mexican’s C33 during practice had issues selecting gears, and resulted in a lot of time spent in the garage. Though out during most of Q1, Gutierrez’s C33 couldn’t push for a flying lap to get him to the next session. Qualifying in P19, Gutierrez will start from P21 on the grid after a gearbox penalty.

Kamui Kobayashi’s return to Formula 1 for Caterham has got off to a positive start with the Japanese driver making it through to Q2 in his CT05, a feat not usually achieved for the team. The ever popular Kobayashi eventually qualified P15, but will tart P14 Team mate Marcus Ericsson was yet another rookie driver to impress during qualifying, while appearing confident in his drive the Swede unfortunately failed to make it out of Q1 and will start P19 (though qualified P20).

The usual subjects were eliminated in Q1. However, Max Chilton’s MR03 Marussia did manage to out qualify his team mate Jules Bianchi for only the second time since their entry into Formula 1 last year. Chilton perhaps felt a boost of confidence in this years car* managing a flying lap of 1:34.293 ahead of Bianchi’s 1:34.794. Unlike last season, neither Marussia will start from the back row with Chilton and Bianchi P17 and P18 respectively.

In what may be a sign of things to come on race day, Lotus had a disastrous qualifying session after such a positive performance last season. The new E22 has been plagued with issues throughout testing and practice, with Grosjean feeling the car is almost undriveable. Grosjean was the only Lotus to make an appearance in qualifying as Maldonado broke down in FP3 and as a result failed to make it out in today’s session. The Frenchman did all he could to get the E22 to perform, but after only six laps a spin into turn 13 saw him out of Q1 to qualify with a 1:36.993 and in P21, though due to Gutierrez’s penalty Grosjean will not be on the last row.

With a dry race expected anything can happen during the race, though a reliable package is going to be key. Fighting to make up positions, Vettel will undoubtedly give it his all to the point where he will most likely suffer a gearbox or engine failure. I can’t see the reining world champion adhering to team orders to conserve tryes or keep the engine cool, but that is just who he is. The Mercedes is definitely the most reliable power unit on the grid, which will favour Hamilton and Rosberg from the start, but also Williams and McLaren’s Magnussen. The only thing that is a sure prediction for the season opener is this race will be lunatic.

– Alex

* Or perhaps a boost of confidence because I asked him for a photo earlier that day, surely that counts for some of the 0.501s advantage.