F1 Australia 2012 Qualifying: Highlights, Reaction From The First Grand Prix of 2012 [VIDEOS]
By Jason Le Miere | March 18, 2012 4:33 AM EST
Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button secured an all-McLaren front row during qualifying for the first grand prix of the season in Melbourne, Australia.
The British-based team staked a claim as the car to beat early in the 2012 season, with Red Bull, last year's dominant team, only occupying the third row of the grid. Romain Grosjean will start in a superb third place for Lotus, with Michael Schumacher one place further back in his Mercedes.
Lewis Hamilton recorded his pole time with his first hot lap in third qualifying, with no one else able to better it in the remaining time. Hamilton's team-mate, Button, got the nearest, clocking in 0.152 seconds back.
"I'm massively proud of my team," Hamilton said, according to the official Formula One Web site.
I'm proud that I was able to do the job for them today. My first lap in Q3 felt pretty special -- at the end of it, I felt it'd be surprising if anyone could push ahead of that."
Something of a surprise on Saturday was that the Red Bulls were so far off the pace, finishing 0.7 seconds behind the pole time. With Mark Webber out-qualifying his double-world champion teammate Sebastian Vettel by just 0.017 seconds.
While it was widely predicted that the Red Bull would be nowhere near as dominant as last year, in large part due a key part of their 2011's car design--the blown exhaust--being outlawed this year, it was a strange sight seeing neither car seriously threaten pole.
Indeed, it is the first time since the Italian grand prix of 2009 that no Red Bull will feature on the front two rows of the grid.
"We are not starting at the front, but we are not starting at the back either," Vettel said, according to Formula1.com, "so it's far from disastrous and regarding the car we know what we need to do. We have a long race ahead of us tomorrow and a lot of opportunities, so I'm looking forward to it."
The other big loser in the first qualifying session of 2012 was the Ferrari. After a difficult winter testing, neither Fernando Alonso or Felipe Massa even made it into final qualifying. Alonso spun out in qualifying two at turn one to leave him starting from 12th spot, while Massa could only finish down in a lowly 16th position.
At the other end of the scale, Mercedes looked like they could be a real threat during Sunday's race and for the season as a whole.
Michael Schumacher finishing in a credible fourth, with Nico Rosberg was back in seventh, though Rosberg would have finished higher were it not for two crucial errors on both his quick laps in Q3.
Romain Grosjean also deserves enormous praise for his surprise third place on the grid. The Frenchman's excellent time will only add to the frustration of his former-world champion Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn, back in F1 after a two-year absence, missed the opportunity to complete another lap in qualifying one after a communication error with the team, to qualify back in 18th.
"I slowed down because we were supposed to have time for one more lap and I guess we didn't," Raikkonen said, according to BBC Sport.
"Nobody told me when I slowed down that I had to hurry up. There's no point to blame anybody and everyone is as disappointed as me. It's a bad start."
Minnows HRT had a difficult start to the season as both cars finished outside the 107 percent cut-off time and will not take their place on the grid on Sunday.
Sergio Perez, who qualified in 17th, was given a five-place penalty, meaning he will start from the back of the grid, after changing his gearbox.
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