2019 Australian GP: 5 Stories for Qualifying

2019 Australian GP: 5 Stories for Qualifying

The start of a new season. Our first chance to see the drivers pushing their cars to their limits. Qualifying hour for the Australian Grand Prix is when the lap times do the talking for the first time this year. It’s bound to be a captivating sixty minutes of on-track action. Here’s what to look out for on Saturday in Melbourne!


The headlines from Friday:

  • Lewis Hamilton leads both Friday Practice sessions.
  • The top three drivers were separated by less than a tenth of a second, and the top three teams by less than two tenths, in Free Practice 1.
  • Mercedes lead by eight tenths in Free Practice 2.
  • Lap times seem to be quicker in 2019 than in 2018 for all teams, except Williams.

MORE RECORDS FOR LEWIS HAMILTON?

Lewis Hamilton could get his year off to a record-equalling start on Saturday in Melbourne if he takes pole position. A pole for Hamilton here would be his eighth at the track – equalling the record for most poles at a circuit, currently shared by Ayrton Senna (eight poles at San Marino) and Michael Schumacher (eight poles at Suzuka). The five-time champion has taken pole for the Australian Grand Prix in every season since the dawn of the hybrid era in 2014, and has topped all but two qualifying sessions at Albert Park in the last four seasons.

Hamilton led both Free Practice 1 and Free Practice 2. He was 0.038 seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel in FP1, while Hamilton and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas were eight tenths faster than any other drivers in the second session. Will Hamilton take pole once again this weekend – or will someone else set the fastest lap?

QUALIFYING SESSION TOPPERS AT ALBERT PARK IN RECENT YEARS:

  Q1 Q2 Q3
2014 Daniel Ricciardo
Red Bull
Nico Rosberg
Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes
2015 Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes
2016 Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes
2017 Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes
Valtteri Bottas
Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes
2018 Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes
Sebastian Vettel
Ferrari
Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes

THE TEAM-MATE BATTLES

Plenty of drivers will be hoping to get the upper hand over their team-mate in the first qualifying session of the year. Eight pairs of drivers will be going head-to-head for the first time, with only Mercedes and Haas maintaining the same driver line ups for 2019.

Among the most hotly anticipated new line-ups are Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc at Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg at Renault. Vettel led Leclerc in both FP1 and FP2 – with just 0.036 seconds separating them in the first session. Meanwhile, at Renault, Hulkenberg finished ahead of Ricciardo in both sessions. The team experienced problems on Friday – Hulkenberg was stuck in the garage with an “electronic error” for some of FP1, while a seat belt issue hampered Ricciardo in FP2.

You can keep track of the team-mate battles throughout the 2019 season on our Team-Mate Battles page!


WILL THE TRACK RECORD BE BROKEN?

There was plenty of talk over the winter about the cars being up to 1.5 seconds slower this season than in 2018. Winter Testing seemed to disprove that, and this weekend we’ll get a clearer idea of how the lap times stack up against last year’s counterparts.

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So far in Practice, lap times do seem to have improved since this time last year. In FP1, the session-topping time was half a second quicker than in 2018, while Hamilton’s fastest time in the second session was 1.331 seconds faster than last year. Every team was faster than last year on Friday, aside from Williams who were almost a full second slower than their best lap in FP2 last season.

1:21.164, Lewis Hamilton’s pole time from 2018, is the time to beat in qualifying. Will it be beaten, and if so, by how much?

You can find the Track Records for all 21 current Formula 1 circuits on our Lap Records page!


WHO WILL BE IN THE TOP 10?

We’d expect six of the ten places in the final part of qualifying to be taken by Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. But who will take the remaining four spots, and will there be any surprises among the top six?

All six Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull drivers have reached the final part of qualifying in both of the last two seasons at the Australian Grand Prix. If that – as expected, barring any untoward happenings – happens again this year, it leaves four spaces in Q3 up for grabs. If Renault have made a step forward over the winter, we can expect Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg to also appear in the top ten alongside the top three teams.

Alfa Romeo looked good in winter testing and Kimi Raikkonen continued to look strong on Friday, finishing sixth in both practice sessions. Albert Park hasn’t been particularly good to the team in recent seasons however. Sauber have failed to see one of their drivers reach Q3 at the track since 2011 and have suffered two double Q2 exits in the past three seasons. Kimi Raikkonen comes into the Australian Grand Prix having reached the top ten in qualifying at every race since the 2016 German Grand Prix. Will that streak finally come to an end in Melbourne?


KEEP IT ON THE TRACK

Finding the real limits of the cars for the first time can lead to plenty of off-track excursions. On Friday, Alexander Albon became the first driver to crash over the Australian Grand Prix weekend, as he collided with the wall at Turn 2, knocking the front wing off his Toro Rosso.

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Look out for more mistakes during the qualifying session, especially from the more inexperienced drivers. It isn’t just the inexperienced drivers who may get it wrong here, though. Valtteri Bottas ended his day early in qualifying last year as he had a heavy crash in the same spot as Albon crashed in FP1. Bottas had an off-track moment in the first practice session too, almost colliding with the wall as he rejoined the track at the penultimate corner. Will all the drivers keep their cars out of the barriers during qualifying?


Follow @LightsOutF1Blog on Twitter for live updates throughout Qualifying!






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