Australian GP 2018
MARCH 24, 2018
Qualifying Report - The blistering omen
By Dan Knutson in Melbourne
The pole time for the 2017 Australian Grand Prix was a new qualifying lap record of 1:22.188. Lewis Hamilton took that pole in his Mercedes and went on to win the world championship. Hamilton earned the pole for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix with a new qualifying lap record of 1:21.164. That was a blistering six-tenths of a second quicker than the nearest opposition in Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari. Is that an omen for the world championship?
The ambient temperature at the start of qualifying was 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Centigrade) and the track temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Centigrade).
The line-up for the weekend was: Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas; Red Bull TAG Heuer – Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen; Ferrari – Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen; Force India Mercedes – Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon; Williams Mercedes –Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin; McLaren Renault – Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne; Renault – Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz; Toro Rosso Honda – Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly; Haas Ferrari – Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen; Sauber Ferrari – Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc.
Rain earlier in the day had left the track wet for all but a few minutes of FP3 when the Ferrari drivers sneaked in the fastest lap times. The surface was dry but green for the start of Q1, which lasted 18 minutes.
All the drivers were using Pirelli’s ultra soft compound slicks with the purple sidewalls.
After the first round of laps, Raikkonen was quickest ahead of Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo, Verstappen and Bottas.
Down on the cutoff line in 15th was Ocon, with Magnussen 14th and Sirotkin 16th.
Hamilton turned some more laps to get into first place with a 1:22.824.
Further down, the order changed constantly. When it was over, the five drivers who were eliminated at the end of Q1 were: Hartley, Ericsson, Leclerc, Sirotkin and Gasly.
The fastest 15 drivers who moved on to Q2 were: Hamilton, Raikkonen, Vettel, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Sainz, Alonso, Grosjean, Bottas, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Vandoorne, Perez, Stroll and Ocon.
Verstappen and Ricciardo headed out on the super soft tires while the ultra soft was the popular choice among the other drivers. Verstappen posted a 1:22.830. But the ultra guys were quicker, including Hamilton who turned a 1:22.051. Verstappen and Ricciardo were fifth and sixth.
However, the drivers start the race on the set of tires they used for their fastest lap in Q2, so Red Bull was working on an alternative race strategy.
Vandoorne was 10th and on the bubble, with Stroll 11th and Magnussen ninth as the session progressed.
All 15 drivers were on track in the final couple of minutes. Right at the end Vettel went quickest with a time of 1:21.944.
The five drivers who were eliminated at the end of Q2 were: Alonso, Vandoorne, Perez, Stroll and Ocon.
The fastest 10 drivers who moved on to Q3 were: Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Sainz, Magnussen, Grosjean and Hulkenberg.
Q3 lasted 12 minutes and the ultra tires were in full swing. But not long as the session was red flagged when Bottas spun into the wall at Turn 2. He was okay but the Merc was a mess. Team boss Toto Wolff expressed his displeasure.
After a 10-minute delay, nine minutes and 47 seconds remained when the session restarted.
Hamilton clocked a 1:22.051, exactly the same time as in Q2. Vettel could not beat that with his 1:22.085. Verstappen slotted into third after setting a 1:22.112. Raikkonen was fourth and Ricciardo fifth. The other four drivers did not make an initial run.
And so it came down to the final three minutes. Out went the Haas and Renault drivers. Then the top four headed out as well.
Hamilton had a clear track and set a blistering 1:21.164. Nobody was going to beat that. Hamilton was six-tenths quicker than Raikkonen.
Vettel qualified third ahead of Verstappen, Ricciardo, Magnussen, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Sainz and Bottas.
Ricciardo would be getting a three-place grid penalty for a rules infringement in practice, and Bottas, obviously, would be starting further back depending on penalties for car repairs.