Lewis Hamilton has vowed to 'have some fun' in the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne this weekend, after gearbox woes stranded the reigning Formula 1 World Champion in a lowly 15th place on the starting grid in a race that this time last year he dominated from lights to chequered flag.
With McLaren-Mercedes' winter testing struggles confirmed in practice at Albert Park, Hamilton only barely scraped through to the second phase of qualifying at all, but a 'loss of drive' on his second run in Q1 wrecked the British star's chances of going any further – and left him down on the eighth row of the grid for Sunday.
Not only that, but he will now have to try and fight his way through the pack from the same position as that in which he began the Italian Grand Prix at Monza last year – a race in which he put a number of his rivals' noses out of joint with a string of abrasive overtaking moves. That notwithstanding, the 24-year-old is clearly relishing the challenge.
“Something broke on the rear of my car on my second flying lap in Q1,” explained the nine-time grand prix-winner. “I just lost all drive in the gearbox and couldn't continue. The team will look at the problem tonight, and I'm determined to drive an attacking race – we'll have some fun from 15th tomorrow!
“My congratulations to Jenson [Button] and everyone at Brawn GP – they have done a fantastic job all weekend and have a lot to look forward to tomorrow.”
To complete McLaren's misery, Heikki Kovalainen in the sister MP4-24 was able to fare little better, similarly failing to break out of Q2 after generally seeming to have the measure of his team-mate throughout practice and Q1. The Finn will begin the race from 14th position, marking the multiple world championship-winning outfit's worst qualifying result in more than a decade.
“The car's overall balance was good,” reflected the 27-year-old. “We just don't have enough grip at the moment to make the best use of it. The team has worked so hard and we have made progress over the past few weeks, though, so it gives us all a lot of hope that we will get back to the front before too long.”
Those sentiments were echoed by both the Woking-based concern's new team principal Martin Whitmarsh and Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug, who pointed out that McLaren had not been too far away from chief rivals Ferrari, BMW-Sauber and Renault – even if, with the same engine in the back of the car, they had been somewhat embarrassed by Brawn GP...
“A gearbox problem for Lewis in Q1,” stated Whitmarsh. “[It was] probably a broken dog ring, but we'll have to investigate it to know for sure. It prevented him from setting as quick a time as he might otherwise have been able to, but at least he got through to Q2 – even if he was unable to take part in it.