F1 qualifying’s new quick-fire elimination format provided a highly intriguing session in Melbourne on Saturday, as Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton secured pole position for the 2016 Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix, three-tenths up on team mate Nico Rosberg.
It was the 50th pole of Hamilton’s F1 career, making him only the third man in history to reach the benchmark, along with Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.
Bizarrely, under the new system, it was down to a two-way fight with over five minutes of Q3 remaining, with the slowest four drivers already eliminated, and with Ferrari choosing not to run further, having decided that Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen would be unable to improve on their times.
At that point those times put them second and fourth respectively and it needed a late second run from Rosberg to dislodge Vettel.
Max Verstappen took a superb fifth for Toro Rosso, followed by Williams’ Felipe Massa and the second Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo completing the top eight.
Q2 accounted for the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, McLaren duo Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, and the Renaults of Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen.
In a frantic Q1 session, Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein had the dubious honour of being the first man eliminated under the new system. He was followed by team mate and fellow rookie Rio Haryanto, who faces a three-place grid drop for his FP3 pit-lane shunt.
Newcomers Haas got their timing wrong which resulted in Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean also getting an early bath, while Daniil Kvyat blamed poor tactics from Red Bull for his surprise exit, which followed that of Sauber’s Felipe Nasr.
The seemingly time-expired Jolyon Palmer was the last to escape into Q2, jumping from 17th to 14th despite the final 90s segment having ended, since the final runner is halted by the chequered flag, not by the countdown clock. That made Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson the last Q1 faller.
The biggest talking point coming out of the session was the failure of the new qualifying format to get more cars on track as hoped, with pole being decided with four minutes remaining in the session. The qualifying sessions were a complete joke.
|Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Results|
|7||55||Carlos Sainz Jr||1:27.057||1:25.384||1:25.582||-0.124||14|
– Haryanta has a 3 Grid Penalty