On 15 occasions last year we headed into a race with Sebastian Vettel on pole position and little prospect that he might be caught.
In comparison, the curtain-raiser for the 2012 season looks alive with possibilities and fascinating storylines.
Who will prevail in the battle of the McLarens? Can Red Bull move forward from row three?
What can Romain Grosjean achieve from third on the grid – and how will his team mate fare starting among the stragglers?
It promises to be a highly exciting start to the season. Here’s a look at the data from today and how the race could unfold.
Full qualifying results
|Driver||Car||Q1||Q2 (vs Q1)||Q3 (vs Q2)|
|1||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren||1’26.800||1’25.626 (-1.174)||1’24.922 (-0.704)|
|2||Jenson Button||McLaren||1’26.832||1’25.663 (-1.169)||1’25.074 (-0.589)|
|3||Romain Grosjean||Lotus||1’26.498||1’25.845 (-0.653)||1’25.302 (-0.543)|
|4||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes||1’26.586||1’25.571 (-1.015)||1’25.336 (-0.235)|
|5||Mark Webber||Red Bull||1’27.117||1’26.297 (-0.820)||1’25.651 (-0.646)|
|6||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1’26.773||1’25.982 (-0.791)||1’25.668 (-0.314)|
|7||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||1’26.763||1’25.469 (-1.294)||1’25.686 (+0.217)|
|8||Pastor Maldonado||Williams||1’26.803||1’26.206 (-0.597)||1’25.908 (-0.298)|
|9||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1’27.464||1’26.314 (-1.150)||1’26.451 (+0.137)|
|10||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1’27.024||1’26.319 (-0.705)|
|11||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1’26.493||1’26.429 (-0.064)|
|12||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari||1’26.688||1’26.494 (-0.194)|
|13||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber||1’26.182||1’26.590 (+0.408)|
|14||Bruno Senna||Williams||1’27.004||1’26.663 (-0.341)|
|15||Paul di Resta||Force India||1’27.469||1’27.086 (-0.383)|
|16||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||1’27.633||1’27.497 (-0.136)|
|23||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT||1’33.495|
Looking at the grid it’s not hard to spot a few drivers ‘out of position’.
Kimi Raikkonen is the first who jumps to attention – he’s 17th (after Sergio Perez’s penalty) in a car that’s good enough for at least third.
According to Raikkonen: “There?óÔé¼Ôäós no issue with the car. I made a mistake and there was a communication issue so the timing wasn?óÔé¼Ôäót right to get another lap.” That suggests he should be in a position to make up places in the race.
So should Fernando Alonso from 12th following his spin. But how much progress he will be able to make in the evil-handling Ferrari F2012 remains to be seen.
He could quickly end up with Raikkonen on his tail, which is a prospect to relish.
Then there’s Nico Rosberg. Qualifying was his forte last year, but that lock-up on his only new-tyre run in Q3 cost him dearly.
Merely repeating his lap from Q2 would have been good enough to put him fifth – row two was certainly possible. He should be able to make progress in the race, aided by the controversial Mercedes F-duct-style system.
Both Saubers should also expect to make progress. Sergio Perez, is set to start from the back of the grid after his gearbox trouble.
And Kamui Kobayashi clearly had the pace to reach Q3 – he Q1 lap would have been good enough to make the cut.
|1||Sergio Perez||Sauber||316.7 (196.8)|
|2||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren||314.0 (195.1)||-2.7|
|3||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes||313.4 (194.7)||-3.3|
|4||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||313.2 (194.6)||-3.5|
|5||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber||312.5 (194.2)||-4.2|
|6||Jenson Button||McLaren||310.7 (193.1)||-6.0|
|7||Romain Grosjean||Lotus||310.2 (192.7)||-6.5|
|8||Kimi Raikkonen||Lotus||310.2 (192.7)||-6.5|
|9||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||309.2 (192.1)||-7.5|
|10||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||308.6 (191.8)||-8.1|
|11||Pastor Maldonado||Williams||308.1 (191.4)||-8.6|
|12||Paul di Resta||Force India||308.1 (191.4)||-8.6|
|13||Bruno Senna||Williams||308.0 (191.4)||-8.7|
|14||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||308.0 (191.4)||-8.7|
|15||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham||307.3 (190.9)||-9.4|
|16||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham||307.1 (190.8)||-9.6|
|17||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||305.5 (189.8)||-11.2|
|18||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari||305.0 (189.5)||-11.7|
|19||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||303.7 (188.7)||-13.0|
|20||Mark Webber||Red Bull||302.6 (188.0)||-14.1|
|21||Narain Karthikeyan||HRT||302.4 (187.9)||-14.3|
|22||Charles Pic||Marussia||301.0 (187.0)||-15.7|
|23||Timo Glock||Marussia||300.7 (186.8)||-16.0|
|24||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT||297.7 (185.0)||-19.0|
Last year Red Bull dominated races with a car that was all about having a high average speed throughout a lap – they were among the slowest on the straight, but always the quickest in the corners.
As Vettel often showed, that worked brilliantly as long as you were starting from pole position. But as Mark Webber often showed, it worked less well when starting in the pack.
Row three of the grid is not where they wanted to find themselves. In a straight line, they’re slower than anything else in the race bar the two Marussias.
They could be sitting ducks through the consecutive DRS zones and powerless to pass in the braking zones. Red Bull’s reliably canny strategy calls and super-quick pit crew will be invaluable if they are to move forwards.
Remember also Vettel’s scorching first-lap pace in 2011, which could serve him well here.
This chart shows the longest stints by each driver in final practice with their lap times in seconds:
|Paul di Resta||94.452||93.558||93.926||93.218||94.654||94.15||93.196||93.39|
|Pedro de la Rosa||95.784||98.942||95.43|
Unsurprisingly, all the drivers in the top ten who set times chose to run on the soft tyres, which means they will start the race on those tyres.
Those further back have a free choice of tyre, and the ‘out-of-position’ drivers are most likely to make a start on the harder rubber and potentially make an early switch during a safety car period. Melbourne is a track where the possibility of a safety car appearance is more than likely.
Poor conditions in practice meant the teams have not been able to test the tyres as extensively as they would have liked.
Of the short stints they ran in final practice, Red Bull’s look most promising. They seemed to find more more time as the fuel load dropped – though of course we don’t know what those initial fuel levels were.
The question of strategy is especially interesting when it comes to the two McLaren drivers. Last year Button was often able to make his tyres last longer than Hamilton – and potentially make one fewer pit stop.
Pirelli have brought softer tyres this year and reduced the size of the performance gap between them in a bid to create more varied strategies. This race will be the first sign whether that has worked.
Your thoughts on the race
Who do you think will win the Australian Grand Prix?
Will Red Bull bounce back from their qualifying disappointment? Where will Alonso and Raikkonen finish after starting outside the top ten?
Have your say in the comments.
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