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Australian GP 2008

MARCH 15, 2008

Qualifying Report - Lewis on top as Ferrari stumble

Lewis Hamilton, Australian GP 2008
© The Cahier Archive

Lewis Hamilton kicked off his World Championship challenge with pole position in Melbourne. In a relatively staid Q3 session, the McLaren star found no real challenge from Ferrari, as Kimi Raikkonen's car had stopped in the pit road at the end of the Q1 session. Felipe Massa stepped up to the plate but in the end he could not deliver the goods and ended up in fourth place on the grid. Raikkonen's car was rescued from the pit road but the rules state that any car that stops out on the track but is then returned to the pits will be held in parc ferme and cannot take any further part in proceedings. The World Champion's challenge was over. He would qualify 16th.

This opened the way for Robert Kubica to stride into the spotlight. His was a wildly impressive flying lap, including a dusty off-track moment at Turn 9. Robert is not shrinking violet and kept his foot planted on the gas and he did not seem to lose much time. He took the pole but was soon to be aced out by the flying Hamilton. The BMW may not have been carrying as much fuel as the McLarens but it was there nonetheless, second on the grid.

Third was Heikki Kovalainen, who probably does not now regret having been let go by Renault at the end of last year. The Renaults were nowhere, Fernando Alonso not even getting into the top 10 and Nelson Piquet looking like a fish well out of the water. He lined up 21st on the grid.

Nick Heidfeld was fifth fastest in the second BMW and probably has a bigger fuel load than Kubica, although it is fair to say that the Pole seems to have gained an edge over his team-mate.

It was a little surprising to see Jarno Trulli sixth in his Toyota, given that the team has not really shown much pace in pre-season testing. The team also has a tradition of running cars with light fuel loads and one can only ask if this was the case once again. Nico Rosberg was right behind the factory car in his Williams-Toyota but the Williams almost certainly had a heavier fuel load. Then came David Coulthard's Red Bull, Timo Glock in the second Toyota and Sebastian Vettel in the Toro Rosso, who failed to set a time in the final Q3 session because of what the team described only as "a technical problem". Such vagueness suggests that the problem is a silly one, perhaps finger-trouble, which the team does not wish to admit to. It was a shame because Vettel had looked very good up to that point.

In the Q1 session the faster drivers were not trying too hard. Heikki Kovalainen was fastest, but at the back there was much excitement as the tail-end charlies scrambled to get into the top 16. Adrian Sutil went for a spin in his Force India; and there were nervous moments for the Honda team. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello made it through into Q2. Then came the Raikkonen excitement and it became clear that he was not looking for space but rather in trouble. The car went slower and slower as he tried to nurse it home to the pits but it stopped in the pit road and that was that. The car was rescued and taken to the pits but the rules are clear and that was the end of the World Champion's qualifying session. He would qualify 16th.

The men who missed out in Q1 were a mixed bunch. There was no surprise that the two Super Aguris were down the back, but they were split by the very disappointing Nelson Piquet, who looked out of his depth throughout. The two Force Indias were also out although Giancarlo Fisichella ended up as the best of the rest in 17th. Between the Roman and Sutil was Sebastien Bourdais in the Toro Rosso. This was not a great showing from the four-time Champ Car title holder.

Given how well Vettel was going, this was bad news for the Frenchman.

Q2 brought disappointment for the Australians as Mark Webber went off at Turn 6 because of a brake problem. His qualifying ended up in the sand trap. It mean that he would start 15th.

Felipe Massa stepped up to the plate in Q2 when it became clear that Raikkonen was out of the running. He set the fastest time for a while, but then he was pushed back to fifth in that section as Hamilton, Kubica, Kovalainen and Heidfeld all went faster. Vettel was sixth, ahead of Rosberg, Coulthard, Trulli and Glock.

The two Hondas did not make it through Q2, but it was close with Barrichello 11th and Button 13th. This was a solid performance for the team. A good start.

Between the two was Alonso's Renault, while William's new boy Kazuki Nakajima was slightly disappointing in 14th.

And se we moved into the new-look Q3 with only 10 minutes of action and little time for more than two fast runs. Heidfeld was the first to get on the board but his pole position was short-lived and pole went, in quick succession from Kovalainen to Massa and then to Hamilton. Glock missed out on his first run. He had to make do with a single attempt. Vettel too had trouble. He appeared for an OUT lap but then went straight into the pits and the engine cover came off, so that was the end of his challenge.

The final runs were to be a huge disappointment for Ferrari as Massa seemed unable to respond to the McLaren challenge, and even looked threatened by the BMWs. Kubica did his high wire act, and good for him, but all the while we knew that Hamilton was coming.

He took pole by a tenth, his lap a triumph of efficiency.

Kovalainen slotted into third and the rest followed in.