Advance Australia Fair?
This year’s Albert Park event marks the first time in world championship history local fans have had two local drivers to cheer for in their home Grand Prix.
There was plenty of cheering done on Saturday when both Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo qualified inside the top 10. Webber’s fifth place on the grid came after a coolly-compiled lap in the final part of qualifying that was compromised by a malfunctioning KERS, which may have cost the Red Bull driver a second-row start. Can he finally snare that elusive podium at home on his 11th attempt?
While the senior Australian was expected to make the top 10, Ricciardo has been one of the stars of the weekend. The Perth-born 22-year-old made it all the way to Q3 for the first time in his career, and ended up being the best qualifier among the six Ferrari-powered cars in Melbourne on Saturday.
And he’s not content with that. “I’m a bit more in the limelight now being more in the middle of the pack and racing some of the bigger guys,” Ricciardo says, “but that’s all extra adrenaline for me. Bring it on!”
Saturday was a superb day for the Woking-based team, with world champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button qualifying 1-2 for the first time in their third year together as teammates. What’s more, Hamilton was three-tenths of a second quicker than third-placed Romain Grosjean of Lotus, and needed just one lap in Q3 to put the others in the shade. Hamilton has been either first or second in three of the four on-track sessions this weekend, and is a previous winner here in 2008. What’s more, the winner at Albert Park has come from pole in four of the last five years – and ended up taking the title in that same year. No wonder the 27-year-old was beaming after qualifying. “When you get that lap and it just feels like its flowing and you hit the sweet spot everywhere, it's like heaven,” he said.
Back where he belongs?
Michael Schumacher’s comeback to Formula One with Mercedes in 2010 has been largely underwhelming, but the 43-year-old has looked like his old self this weekend in the rapid W03, which features an innovative rear wing concept that makes the Silver Arrow a bullet at high-speed and has left the rest of the teams scratching their heads. Schumacher’s a genuine chance this afternoon to record his first podium since the Chinese Grand Prix of 2006, the most recent of his 91 career wins.
Schumacher admitted on Saturday night that he wasn’t counting on a win on Sunday, but was buoyant about his chances of spraying some champagne at a circuit where he’s won on four occasions.
“I'm not dreaming too much about winning this race,” he said, (but) we’ll hopefully have a chance to jump on the podium; that's not completely unrealistic.”
Long faces at Ferrari
Felipe Massa said it best: Ferrari are worse than even they expected to be to start 2012. Pre-season testing indicated the Prancing Horse would struggle in Melbourne, but 12th on the grid for Fernando Alonso after a spin and 16th for Massa in qualifying made for some downbeat faces in Lygon Street, not to mention back at Maranello. After a weekend of hacksawing his understeering car through Albert Park’s 16 turns, Alonso was furious when he spun backwards into Turn 1 in qualifying on Saturday, and said “if we don’t improve the car quickly, we won’t be able to win the championship”. For all of Ferrari’s struggles, don’t count Alonso out on Sunday afternoon – he has a remarkable record here, one that includes nine points finishes and four podiums in 10 previous visits.
Keep an eye on Kimi
While Romain Grosjean rightly stole the headlines for Lotus after qualifying a stunning third on Saturday, the return to Formula One of Lotus’ ‘other’ driver hasn’t gone so well this weekend. Kimi Raikkonen has been inside the top 10 just once in four on-track sessions, and was the biggest-name casualty of Saturday qualifying, when he finished 18th after a communication mix-up with his team and a mistake on his fastest lap in Q1. It’s not all bad for the Finn though – he now has an extra set of the faster, softer Pirelli rubber to use for the race, and will be buoyed by the fact that the man starting 18th last year used those extra tyres to climb back through the field into the points on five occasions, most memorably Mark Webber in China who made the podium from the fourth-last row.