There aren’t too many reasons to get up at six o’clock on a Saturday morning, but Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo provided one today.
Lewis will start the 2014 Australian Grand Prix — the first race in F1’s new hybrid era — from pole position tomorrow, with Danny R alongside. We’re only just getting used to these new cars and especially how quiet they are. And thank goodness for that; it was quite something to hear the cheer when Ricciardo claimed the pole only, moments later, for Lewis to claim it back from their boy. Hat tip to the home crowd for that. Nobody does sporting better than the Aussies.
Nico Rosberg starts third, and clearly a little bemused not to be on the front row, if not on pole. Hamilton failed to show Rosberg the way home across much of last year to everyone’s general surprise. Was today a taste of how it’s going to be in 2014? Nico’s downbeat manner in the press conference suggests he’s already worrying it might be.
Qualifying in fourth place for his first ever Grand Prix, on an unfamiliar track, in a tricky car, in the wet will be Kevin Magnussen. The last time McLaren brought a rookie the first race of the season he also started fourth — that was Lewis Hamilton. And we all know what happened next.
Fernando Alonso starts fifth, alongside Jean-Eric Vergne with Nico Hulkenberg and Daniil Kyvat behind him. The 19-year-old Russian’s performance was almost as impressive as Magnussen’s. Two rookies in the top ten… this isn’t just about new cars.
The drivers really had to earn it this morning. None of them is yet used to driving a 700kg car with 500Nm of torque and today, the first time they’ve had to drive them competitively for position, it rained and rained hard. Hard enough for first inters and then full wets. But for a largely wasted half day when Pirelli half-heartedly soaked the track during the first test in Jerez, no driver has had any experience of these cars in the wet. And depending on whether you were driving one or just watching, they looked terrifying/spectacular. A completely unscientific survey has already suggested more opposite lock has been applied this weekend than in the whole of last season.
And just as the rookies shone, so some of the older hands didn’t. Most notably World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who failed to make the cut for Q3 for the first time in nearly two years. Before this weekend started that was expected. But before this weekend nobody expected the Red Bull RB10 to be anywhere near the front, let alone almost good enough for pole. Is Ricciardo that good? Is the RB10 already that good? Will Lewis have more than just his team-mate to beat if he wants to take a second championship?
Jenson Button, usually the king of conditions like this, also found himself in the shadow of his younger teammate. He’ll start eleventh just ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who had really not found the Ferrari F-14T to his liking. His Q2 ended up in the wall in the biggest shunt of the weekend so far — and there have been an awful lot of offs over the last two days. In round one of ‘Nando vs Kimi battle, it’s been a clear win for Alonso.
So, we said earlier this week nothing could be predicted this weekend, except maybe a Mercedes on pole (oh, and a starring performance form Magnussen, but let’s not boast…). But Red Bull in the mix? And Williams (who qualified Massa/Bottas in ninth and tenth) absolutely not the second fastest car? Three Renault-engined cars in the top ten? Three world champions out in Q2?
You really need any more encouragement to get out of bed early tomorrow? Well try this… the forecast is already saying more rain is on its way.