The reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel kicked off his 2011 season in style by taking pole position in Melbourne.
Even without the aid of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System his lap around the 3.295-mile circuit was highly impressive with a time of one minute, 23.529 seconds.
Vettel’s sixteenth career pole position underline the performance of the Red Bull RB7. The gap between the young German and the next fastest was eight tenths of a second. A true dominate performance from the new world champion.
With a new exhaust system fitted to the MP4-26 after a disappointing pre-season testing – to improve the balance and handling – Lewis Hamilton rewarded the McLaren team with a solid second position.
Hamilton denied Red Bull Racing a front row start in the final moments of Q3 by beating Mark Webber by less than a tenth of a second, despite his Kinetic Energy Recovery System also failing during his last lap.
Home crowd favourite Mark Webber will start in third for Red Bull Racing, while two-time Australian Grand Prix winner Jenson Button is fourth for McLaren.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso could only manage fifth while his team-mate Felipe Massa suffered a troubled qualifying session with a spin at the end of Q3 and nearly being knocked out in Q1.
Vitaly Petrov took a superb sixth for Renault, while the Mercedes GP resurgence was not as dramatic as the final test had indicated. Nico Rosberg was seventh and Michael Schumacher missed out on a Q3 slot by the agonising margin of 0.089s after a poor run to his final Q2 lap.
Sauber and Toro Rosso showed their pre-season improvements were real as Kamui Kobayashi and Sebastien Buemi completed the top ten, with their team-mates Jaime Alguersuari and Sergio Perez not far off Q3 pace in P12 and P13.
Force India’s Paul di Resta and Pastor Maldonado in the Williams will start their maiden Grands Prix from P14 and P15 respectively, ahead of their experienced team-mates following mistakes by Adrian Sutil and Rubens Barrichello. Sutil miraculously avoided the pit wall in a spectacular spin out of the final corner, triggered when he activated his Drag Reduction System while hitting the kerb, unsettling the Force India.
Barrichello’s error was more embarrassing. The Brazilian touched the grass under braking for Turn 3 and spun into the gravel before he could set a Q2 time.
Renault’s Nick Heidfeld, who replaces the injured Robert Kubica this season, suffered a lack of pace in qualifying and will start in P18.
Last season’s new teams have so far failed to show any progress with Lotus back in its 2010 position behind the rest, but ahead of Virgin Racing, which were at least quick enough to make the 107 per cent cut in qualifying.
The same cannot be said to Hispania. Both Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan must rely on the kindness of the rest of the pitlane if they are to be given dispensation to race.
Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix is going to be intriguing especially the degradation nature from the Pirelli tyres. Will we see lots of pit-stop action? And what about the Drag Reduction System? Can this new adjustable rear wing aid overtaking? We will find out over the course of 58 laps around Albert Park, Melbourne.
Qualifying times from Melbourne:
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m23.529s
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.307s
3. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m24.395s
4. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m24.779s
5. Alonso Ferrari 1m24.974s
6. Petrov Renault 1m25.247s
7. Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.421s
8. Massa Ferrari 1m25.599s
9. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m25.626s
10. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m27.066s
11. Schumacher Mercedes 1m25.971s
12. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m26.103s
13. Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m26.108s
14. di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m26.739s
15. Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m26.768s
16. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m31.407s
17. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m26.270s
18. Heidfeld Renault 1m27.239s
19. Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m29.254s
20. Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m29.342s
21. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m29.858s
22. d’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m30.822s
23. Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m32.978s*
24. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m34.293s*
*Liuzzi and Karthikeyan failed to meet the Q1 107 percent qualifying time – 1m31.266s.