2016 AUSTRALIAN GP: NEW QUALIFYING FORMAT DEBACLE IN MELBOURNE

Lewis Hamilton took the 50th pole position of his career and his first under Formula One’s new qualifying rules as he beat team-mate Nico Rosberg to the front of the grid for the Australian Grand Prix. With Hamilton ahead of Rosberg by 0.4s, Sebastian Vettel qualified third for Ferrari and the four-time champion will be joined on row two by team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

After getting to within three tenths of a second of Hamilton in final practice, Vettel finished qualifying eight tenths down on the champion in qualifying, though the deficit was surely aided by Vettel’s decision to back out of unnecessary running in the final stages of the session when elimination was imminent.

Max Verstappen put in a strong performance for Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso and the young Dutchman will start tomorrow’s season-opening grand prix from fifth place. Felipe Massa was sixth for Williams ahead of Carlos Sainz in the second Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.

The new format qualifying hour began with a steady stream of cars flowing onto the circuit from the pit lane as drivers sought to get in a solid lap in advance of the first elimination, which would take place seven minutes into the segment. And when that came the first out was Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, followed 90 seconds later by team-mate Rio Haryanto.

The big casualty of the first segment was Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat. After the Haas cars of Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean had dropped out, Kvyat appeared to get his timing wrong and with no chance of another flying lap the Russian, who last year qualified 12th, was ruled out in P18. The final two to be ruled out of Q2 were Sauber’s Felipe Nasr in P17 and team-mate Marcus Ericsson in P16. The Swede looked like he might scrape through, but Renault’s Jolyon Palmer timed his running well and his final lap won him a Q2 berth at the expense of the Sauber man.

Fifteen drivers went into Q2 in search of eight Q3 slots but the eliminations this time began after six minutes. First out was Renault’s Kevin Magnussen and he was soon followed by Palmer, McLaren’s Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso. In the unfamiliar environment of the countdown a number of teams were caught out by poor timing and Williams’ Valterri Bottas and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Pérez were left to retire early to the garage with too little time left to them to start and complete another lap.

Q3 arrived and after five minutes, Daniel Ricciardo was the first to be ruled out, the Aussie unable to replicate the kind of lap that saw him make it through to the final segment in P5. He was followed by Sainz and Williams’ Felipe Massa. Ahead of them was the main mover of the final phase – Verstappen. The Toro Rosso driver made it through to the final segment in P7 but jumped to P5 in the final classification thanks to an excellent lap of 1:25.434, just four tenths adrift of Räikkönen.

The grid slot is the best of the Dutch driver's career to date. Utlimately though the battle for the top spots was always going to be between Mercedes and Ferrari. Rosberg set the first time and took P1 but wqas quickly beaten by Vettel and then by Hamilton. With Raikkonen fourth and time running out Ferrari then elected to forego any more running leaving the field clear for Rosberg to challenge Hamilton. The German couldn’t find the pace necessary and Robserg’s run of pole stretching back to last season’s Japanese Grand Prix was ended by Hamilton.

P. # DRIVER TEAM TIME LAPS
1 44 LEWIS HAMILTON MERCEDES 1:23.837 14
2 6 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES 1:24.197 13
3 5 SEBASTIAN VETTEL FERRARI 1:24.675 14
4 7 KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN FERRARI 1:25.033 13
5 33 MAX VERSTAPPEN TORO ROSSO 1:25.434 12
6 19 FELIPE MASSA WILLIAMS 1:25.458 12
7 55 CARLOS SAINZ TORO ROSSO 1:25.582 14
8 3 DANIEL RICCIARDO RED BULL RACING 1:25.589 15
9 11 SERGIO PEREZ FORCE INDIA 1:25.753 12
10 27 NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA 1:25.865 14
11 77 VALTTERI BOTTAS WILLIAMS 1:25.961 9
12 14 FERNANDO ALONSO MCLAREN 1:26.125 9
13 22 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN 1:26.304 9
14 30 JOLYON PALMER RENAULT 1:27.601 12
15 20 KEVIN MAGNUSSEN RENAULT 1:27.742 11
16 9 MARCUS ERICSSON SAUBER 1:27.435 9
17 12 FELIPE NASR SAUBER 1:27.958 7
18 26 DANIIL KVYAT RED BULL RACING 1:28.006 5
19 8 ROMAIN GROSJEAN HAAS 1:28.322 6
20 21 ESTEBAN GUTIERREZ HAAS 1:29.606 6
21 88 RIO HARYANTO MANOR 1:29.627 3
22 94 PASCAL WEHRLEIN MANOR 1:29.642 3
Q1 107% Time: 1:31.325
Notes: Note - Haryanto drops three grid places for pit-lane collision with Grosjean in FP3