This may have been written on the odd occasion in the past, but Lewis Hamilton will start the Australian Grand Prix in pole position. It was a Mercedes 1-2 as the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari hasn’t quite worked out the way we thought it was going to.
The day’s drama began with a busy time for Red Bull. They had a race against time to change the chassis of Max Verstappen’s car. Red Bull explained this was a “precautionary change due to a concern with the fuel cell.”
Lewis Hamilton made a clean sweep of the practice sessions by finishing quickest in the final session. He didn’t lead throughout with team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (on new soft tyres) both posting the quickest time at one point during the session.
Hamilton’s best time was set on new softs and he finished 0.264 seconds ahead of Vettel. Charles Leclerc was third-fastest, and it was a good session for Haas with Romain Grosjean (0.82 seconds off the pace) and Kevin Magnusson filling fourth and fifth spots.
Sixth quickest was the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas was back in seventh. He’d have finished higher but for running wide on the penultimate corner. Daniil Kvyat was eighth with Max Verstappen finishing ninth. The top ten was completed by Daniel Ricciardo. It was another disappointing session for Williams as they were again rooted to 19th and 20th positions. George Russell was 19th but 1.4 seconds slower than McLaren’s Lando Norris who was 18th.
Robert Kubica had a troublesome session as he hit the pit wall. There was also a pitlane incident with Norris. That resulted in McLaren being fined f€5000 for an unsafe release.
The first qualifying session of the 2019 season saw a familiar result with Lewis Hamilton taking pole and it was a Mercedes 1-2. As often seems to be the case, Hamilton left it late to snatch pole but ended 0.112 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas. It’s the sixth year in a row that Hamilton has clinched pole position at the Australian Grand Prix.
The dominance over Ferrari was evident with Sebastian Vettel finishing third, but 0.704 seconds behind Hamilton. Max Verstappen was fourth benefiting from an error on his final lap by Charles Leclerc who finished fifth.
Sixth on the grid will be the Haas of Romain Grosjean with his team-mate Kevin Magnusson in seventh. Lando Norris will start in eighth on the grid in his McLaren, a great debut for the young driver. He admitted afterwards that he was so nervous that “it almost ruined the enjoyment.” He finished ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in ninth and Sergio Perez (Racing Point) in tenth. Renault were 11th and 12th with Nico Hulkenberg ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.
Debutant Alexander Albon will start 13th on the grid, finishing two places ahead of his Toro Rosso team-mate Daniil Kvyat. Williams predictably filled the last two places on the grid and George Norris was 0.707 seconds clear of Robert Kubica who was struggling with a lack of grip. When that did improve, he ended up hitting the wall and getting a puncture!
Speaking after qualifying, Lewis Hamilton said he was still shaking as it had been so close. The defending champion said Mercedes “had no idea where we would be” after testing in Barcelona.
Sebastian Vettel said that there wasn’t anything wrong with his Ferrari but was surprised by the gap between his car and Mercedes. He said the team had “some homework” to do” to work out what was going on but still believes he has a great car.
So, the scene is set for the first race of the new season. It’s been surprising so far that Mercedes have had a strong advantage over Ferrari, will that continue in the actual race on Sunday? Only time will tell of course, I’ll be back next weekend with a look back at how the Grand Prix went. Till then, enjoy your racing and the late-night you’re about to have.