Sebastian Vetted and Mark Webber will start Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix from the front row after dominating the qualifying session in Melbourne.
The Adrian Newey designed RB6 was the class of the Formula One field around the 3.295-mile street circuit and both drivers were able to extract the extra performance to turn the session into a battle royale.
Vettel edged out his team-mate by just over a tenth of a second with a sensational lap. The young German recorded a time of one minute, 23.919 seconds (the only lap below the one minute, 24 seconds and in doing so, smashes the old lap record set by fellow countryman Michael Schumacher back in 2004).
Even that wild moment in the last timed sector – in which Sebastian kept his foot down on the throttle as the car snapped into oversteer – was unable to affect his lap time in taking that all-important pole position.
As for home crowd favourite Webber, he had the opportunity to take the top spot but lost crucial time in the middle sector of his best lap, having been fastest of all in sectors one and three. The Australian will start his home race in second.
Bahrain Grand Prix winner Fernando Alonso was the only contender to challenge the Red Bulls in qualifying. The Ferrari driver best time was one minute, 24.111 seconds, just under two tenths shy of pole position.
World champion Jenson Button was only fourth quickest but the gap between his McLaren and the leading Red Bull was a surprise. Just six tenths of a second! That difference in performance is a worry for Jenson, as he seeks to defend his drivers’ title from his rivals. McLaren will need to step up in order to challenge Red Bull for championship honours.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa lines up in sixth ahead of the Mercedes GP duo of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher – with the young German again out-qualifying his more experienced colleague – although the pair did struggle to get the best from the soft set of Bridgestone during the session.
Rubens Barrichello will start the race in eighth for Williams with Renault’s Robert Kubica in ninth while the fastest Force India of Adrian Sutil completed the top ten.
The surprise of Q2 was Lewis Hamilton’s failure to get through to Q3. The McLaren driver seemed to be struggling with his car balance (possibly caused by the tyre pressure) and missed out on the top-ten shootout by 0.064 seconds. He will start the Australian Grand Prix in a disappointing P11.
Behind the 2008 world champion, Sebastien Buemi lines up P12 for Toro Rosso ahead of Force India’s Vitantonio Liuzzi, BMW Sauber’s Pedro de la Rosa, Williams’ Nico Hulkenberg, BMW Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari and Renault’s Vitaly Petrov.
As expected, the six drivers at the three new teams were all eliminated in Q1. The HRT again propped up at the rear end of the grid – Bruno Senna taking P23 ahead of Karun Chandhok – but encouragingly got within six seconds of the outright pace in Q1 and within a second of Timo Glock’s faster Virgin Racing in P21. Team-mate Lucas di Grass will start the race in P22.
The Lotus Racing drivers finished up fastest of the new teams, with Heikki Kovalainen just over three tenths clear of team-mate Jarno Trulli.
Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix should be a better spectacle compared to the dull season opener in Bahrain. Many critics have complained about the lack of on-track action in particular overtaking. Hopefully the nature of this street circuit in Melbourne, with the concrete walls and the use of the safety car if there are accidents, will provide better entertainment.
Qualifying times from Albert Park:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:23.919
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:24.035
3. Alonso Ferrari 1:24.111
4. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:24.675
5. Massa Ferrari 1:24.837
6. Rosberg Mercedes 1:24.884
7. Schumacher Mercedes 1:24.927
8. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:25.217
9. Kubica Renault 1:25.372
10. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:26.036
11. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:25.184
12. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:25.638
13. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:25.743
14. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:25.747
15. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:25.748
16. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:25.777
17. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:26.089
18. Petrov Renault 1:26.471
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:28.797
20. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:29.111
21. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:29.592
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:30.185
23. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:30.526
24. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 1:30.613