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F1 Australian GP: Hamilton on pole amidst qualifying shambles

Lewis Hamilton will start the Australian Grand Prix from pole position but the new elimination style qualifying format would lurch from confusing to farcical
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Lewis Hamilton will start the quest for a fourth Formula 1 World Championship title from pole position as the new look qualifying made its controversial debut at Albert Park.

With the elimination format much discussed before the season, it went into practice for the first time for the Australian Grand Prix but appeared to create considerable confusion as to when drivers would be eliminated, while Q3 proved a shambles of teams sending their cars out for just one lap.

With drivers eliminated before they completed their flying lap – something the teams didn't seem to realise was the rule – in Q1 and Q2, Q3 would turn into a shambles as the teams played tactic and simply sent their cars on just one lap at the beginning, then allowed the clock to countdown and eliminate drivers one-by-one.

Save for Nico Rosberg going out late on to improve on his fourth place to second place, barely any action would take place in the final 10mins of the session, with none at all after four minutes, so much so fans were leaving long before the chequered flag dropped.

The result itself would shake out to see Hamilton on pole position with a stunning lap of 1min 23.897secs, while Rosberg improved to second place, but two tenths behind his Mercedes team-mate.

Sebastian Vettel put up a good fight for Ferrari on the first run but didn't attempt to defend his position as he and Kimi Raikkonen fill row two for Ferrari.

Though overshadowed by what was happening around him, Max Verstappen kicks off his season with an excellent fifth place as Toro Rosso out-qualified Red Bull, the Dutchman sharing row three with Felipe Massa, ahead of Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo.

Q3's farce came after Q1 and Q2 session that could best be described as confusing and only as exciting as the FIA had hoped in the opening few minutes.

Indeed, with few knowing exactly what to expect from the new elimination qualifying format, Q1 as expected proved busy from the very beginning as drivers looked to put a banker lap in to prevent them from being at the bottom of the timesheets when the 'countdown to elimination' clock began after seven minutes.

With Nico Rosberg getting it wrong at turn on as the first car on the road, it was Lewis Hamilton that fared better, finding air – eventually after some out-lap jostling with Romain Grosjean – to go quickest by some margin early on.

At the back, however, there seemed to be some confusion as to whether drivers would be allowed to complete a fast lap even after the elimination clock had ticked down. However, with drivers indeed immediately out as soon as the 90secs interval is up, Esteban Gutierrez and Grosjean would find themselves withdrawn before getting around in time.

Red Bull would also seemingly realise this when it was too late, Daniil Kvyat stuck in 17th and with no time to get around to both complete his out-lap and a fast lap before his time was up.

Somewhat confusingly though, Jolyon Palmer was allowed to complete his fast lap in the fight with Marcus Ericsson to avoid the final drop position of 16th. With Renault driver going faster, Ericsson was eliminated in 16th. He will start ahead of Nasr, Kvyat, Grosjean, Gutierrez, Rio Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein.

Q2 would follow a similar tact, but with the Renaults of Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer eliminated first after failing to go quick enough on the first – and not having time to change tyres and get round again -, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso would drop out without venturing back out, while Valtteri Bottas had a final corner error to blame for him missing the cut in 11th.

Set in positions ninth and tenth, Force India perhaps inevitably chose to hold position to ensure better tyres at the start of the race tomorrow, thus seeing out the session in the pit-lane.
by Ollie Barstow



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