Nico Hulkenberg and Pastor Maldonado were among the surprise beneficiaries of the qualifying dramas that befell Kimi Raikkonen and both Ferrari drivers, joining Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo in making the top ten shoot-out.

Had the big teams not suffered their assorted mishaps, none of the 'new guard' would have been expected to make the final phase of Saturday's session, but the three youngsters escaped the a frenetic scrap for positions in part two to join the likes of eventual poleman Lewis Hamilton and world champion Sebastian Vettel in fighting for top spot.

With Ricciardo electing not to post a time in the final part of the session, Maldonado and Hulkenberg battled over eighth place, with the Williams driver eventually coming out on top by a comfortable half-second, boosting the Grove team after a tough 2011 campaign.

"It was a great start to the season for the team today," the Venezuelan commented, "We have shown that we are competitive, and we now need to keep pushing. The car has been improving throughout the weekend, and we need to keep going in that direction. It's now down to our pace and strategy for tomorrow's race."

Chief operations engineer Mark Gillan confirmed that Williams' second driver, Bruno Senna, didn't get a clear lap before ending up 14th on the grid, but shared Maldonado's ambition of aiming for points first time out in 2012.

"It has been a very satisfying day for the team," he confirmed, "The whole team is really looking forward to tomorrow's race, and we hope to capture our first points of the season.

Hulkenberg, meanwhile, escaped the Q2 'drop zone' at the last moment, leaving team-mate Paul di Resta back in P15 after the Scot's final out-lap was compromised by traffic and he proved unable to get his tyres into the right working range. The German, on his first race weekend with Force India, admitted that he hadn't expected to complete all three phases of the session, but was delighted to secure a place on row five for the Melbourne race.

"We did a good job after FP3 to improve the set-up and I'm feeling much more comfortable with the car now," he reported, "Obviously, going into the race, there is some uncertainty because we haven't really done many runs on high fuel here because of the wet sessions yesterday, but all the teams are in the same situation. It's the same case with the tyres because we will still be learning about them tomorrow and discovering how long they last. It should be an exciting race and I'm looking forward to it."

Ricciardo confirmed that the extent of his ambitions for qualifying was to progress to the final phase for the first time since making his debut with HRT midway through 2011, echoing Hulkenberg's claim that escaping Q2 was by no means certain.

"That was nice!" the Australian said, his trademark smile wider than ever, "The ambition at the start of the weekend, as far as qualifying was concerned, was to get into Q3 and we have achieved that. Before we got to Melbourne, we did not have a clear idea of how our pace would compare with the other teams. In fact, I thought Q3 might have been a little bit out of reach, so this was a really positive result for me and for the team.

"We should have a strong race as we are in good shape, so it will be a case of trying to get the best start possible followed by a good opening lap and see how we get on from there. It will be a bit of a new experience for me compared to last year as this is the first time I start a Grand Prix from as high as the mid-field. Today, we have laid the groundwork for Sunday and Jean-Eric is not far behind me, which will keep me on my toes. As a team, we can be pleased with the work we have done."


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