Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello proved that Brawn GP's winter testing form had been anything but a flash in the pan by sensationally locking out the front row of the starting grid for this weekend's 2009 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne – as reigning Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton languished all the way down in 15th place...
With grip – or rather a chronic lack of it – the major issue for most drivers heading into qualifying, there was still very much a feeling that this could be anyone's
pole position. Nobody in the paddock was able to truly say who would be up there and who wouldn't, but Williams had every reason to be confident, with Nico Rosberg having impressively and surprisingly paced all three practice sessions for the multiple former world champions.
Brawn GP had been consistently amongst the front-runners too, but Ferrari were all-at-sea – with Felipe Massa enduring a number of 'moments' on-track and team-mate team-mate Kimi Raikkonen managing only five laps on Saturday morning after encountering a hydraulics problem on his F60. BMW-Sauber, also, were struggling, with Robert Kubica in particular complaining of tyre woes as the laps wore on. And as for McLaren-Mercedes – well, least said soonest mended might be the kindest way to sum up the situation at Woking in the early stages of 2009...
Giancarlo Fisichella was the first man to take to the track in Q1 in the promising Force India VJM02, followed by Scuderia Toro Rosso new boy Sébastien Buemi and pace-setter Rosberg. The rest of the pack soon followed suit to chase the Italian's initial marker, with Rosberg dipping a second below the early benchmark, quicker than the Ferraris, Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren and Adrian Sutil, who popped up into second place after benefiting from a handy tow along the pit straight.
A second flying – albeit somewhat scrappy – effort from Rosberg removed another eight tenths off the time to beat, before team-mate Kazuki Nakajima re-affirmed Williams' stellar form by leaping to the top of the timesheets. The Ferraris were in close attendance behind, whilst Hamilton was yet to take to the circuit with twelve minutes to go.
Raikkonen then stole the top spot away from Williams, with Barrichello slotting into fourth, as Hamilton finally headed out of the pit-lane on Bridgestone's softer-spec rubber. Home hero Mark Webber slotted into an excellent third, but Fernando Alonso was the man to raise the bar again, belying Renault's mediocre practice pace and poor handling in FP3 to lay down a marker of his own.
Barrichello stole the Spaniard's thunder just moments later, before Hamilton pulled a sublime lap out of the bag to shoot immediately up into second place on his opening run as the order continued to chop and change. Button subsequently displaced his countryman to make it a Brawn one-two, as the BMWs continued to play a waiting game in the pits – and right down at the bottom of the timing screens.
Nick Heidfeld's first shot secured the experienced German eleventh place, but there was no such joy for Nelsinho Piquet, who was languishing down in 19th in the second Renault, with behind him – incredibly – 2008 championship runner-up Massa. Fisichella, Sutil and the Toyota of Jarno Trulli were also in the 'drop' zone with just under five minutes remaining on the clock.
Massa, however, would take more than a second off his previous best effort on his following run to leapfrog 18 places up the order into second, as Raikkonen improved ten spots from 14th to fourth – the message being that Ferrari's pace was clearly there. That pushed Kovalainen into danger with less than two minutes remaining, as Webber sensationally stormed to the top of the order by four tenths of a second, sending the partisan home crowd into rapture.