Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

Australian GP – Disappointment in qualifying

Melbourne, 17 March – It will be an all-McLaren front row to the grid for the Australian Grand Prix, the opening round of the Formula 1 World Championship. Lewis Hamilton took pole in a time of 1.24.922 ahead of team-mate Jenson Button (1.25.074.) Third place at the Albert Park circuit went to the Lotus of Romain Grosjean (1.25.302.) The two F2012s will face an uphill struggle, as Fernando Alonso (1.26.494) ended up stuck in a gravel trap shortly after the start of Q2 and starts from twelfth place, while Felipe Massa qualified sixteenth in 1.27.497.

Australian GP – Alonso and Massa out in Q2. An inauspicious start in Melbourne

The outcome of the first qualifying session of the 2012 season was definitely disappointing for Scuderia Ferrari: neither driver managed to get through to the final part of the session, with Fernando Alonso in twelfth place and Felipe Massa sixteenth at the end of Q2. However, while making it to Q3 was out of reach for Felipe, one could not say the same of Fernando who was unable to run a second set of the Pirelli Soft tyres, after going off track, remaining stuck in a gravel trap after the start of his second timed lap.

Stefano Domenicali: “We can only be disappointed after this qualifying session. It hurts to have neither driver on track for the final part of the session, even if we know that Fernando had every chance of getting at least this far if he had not got caught up in one of those incidents that are part of the game. Felipe was struggling with the balance of the car right from the morning and we need to look at it in depth to work out why. Everyone had been waiting for this hour of qualifying to understand what the pecking order would be: we knew it would be tough for us and that’s how it went. I understand that at the moment, our fans are disappointed, but I would urge them to be cautious before making any definitive judgement, as if everything was already over. We need to remain calm and concentrated. We have a lot of work to do and our engineers are well aware of that, as indeed they were before even leaving for Melbourne. The season is going to be very long, just as tomorrow’s race will be long and hard. Given our grid positions, the realistic aim is for us to get both cars into the points. As usual, we will do our utmost.”

Fernando Alonso: “It went like this: I got a bit on the grass under braking, the car took off on its own and I found myself in the gravel. I had managed to keep the engine running and was hoping the marshals would be able to push me back on track. I had done my time on used Softs: maybe with a new set I could have made it through to Q3, but I would not have been able to fight for the front rows. Today, we lacked performance, especially because we did not have enough aerodynamic downforce and we are still lacking in top speed. Tomorrow we will be racing defensively and will try and do what we can, hopefully making the most of having four sets of new tyres. Let’s hope for a good start in order to catch those who are a few rows ahead of us and then fight with them to the end. Here, at the end of qualifying last year, we were 1”4 off the pace, while today, in Q2 it was 1”, therefore hypothetically one could say we are more competitive than we were back then. Sure, there are other teams that have made progress, but I think we have plenty of room for improvement. In Malaysia, we will have the same car, therefore the situation won’t change much. We will just have to see how it will adapt to the track characteristics there. It’s true our target at the start of the year was to fight for the win right from the beginning and we have not managed that, but this will be a long season and all we can do is work on improving performance…There’s no point getting angry as it does not serve any purpose.”

Felipe Massa: “I am very disappointed: this is not the start to the season I was expecting or hoping for. It was difficult right from the start of FP3: the balance of the car was never what I wanted and I never managed to get a clean lap. I was always lacking grip, both on the Mediums and the Softs and I suffered with oversteer on entry and understeer on exit. I don’t know why, but the car seemed to be worse than in winter testing, maybe down to the characteristics of this circuit. Now we will try and do what we can in the race tomorrow. It will not be easy, because I will start from a long way back, but I will give it my all. I don’t think we’ll be able to do just a single stop, but will have to try and make up the ground lost today in qualifying. Clearly we are behind, maybe more than we had expected and there are other teams that have improved a lot compared to last year. We must work to find the right direction for developing the car.”

Pat Fry: “There’s no denying that was a difficult qualifying. It’s true that with Fernando, we could have got into Q3 with relative ease, given the time he did on his only lap in Q2 with used Softs, but I don’t think we could have got higher than the fourth row. Unfortunately, Felipe was struggling with the balance of his car for the whole day and we will have to do a lot of work to try and sort out the situation as much as possible for tomorrow’s race. Let’s hope that over a long distance things can be better and we will at least try and exploit the fact that Fernando has no less than four sets of new tyres, while Felipe has two. Clearly the two drivers’ grid positions are what they are, but we will give it our best shot. And it is equally clear that we must work like never before to make the F2012 quicker and to try and reduce the gap to the best as soon as possible.”

Qualifying session

Q1 ALO 6th 1.26.688 9 FM 17th 1.27.633 8
Q2 ALO 12th 1.26.494 3 FM 16th 1.27.497 8

Weather: air 21/20 °C, track 30/22 °C; sunny. Chassis: Alonso 295, Massa 293

Australian GP – A tough first Sunday in prospect

Melbourne, 17 March – The mist might have lifted slightly over the mysteries of the current hierarchy in Formula 1 this season, but unfortunately that mist has been replaced with a black cloud hanging over the Scuderia Ferrari garage after what was a disappointing afternoon. If this is unsurprising because of the honest assessment the team has given in recent weeks, about its winter testing activities, the degree to which the two F2012s failed to deliver was worse than expected. However, it has to be said that Fernando Alonso was looking comfortable to get into Q3 which at the very least means a top ten grid position, but the Spaniard proved that even double world champions are not infallible, getting caught out and spinning into the gravel trap, before he’d had a chance to do a really quick lap on new rubber.

As for team-mate Felipe Massa, the Brazilian and indeed his engineers, remained baffled at the fact he could not get the car balanced the way he wanted and was fighting it around every corner. Without starting to add all sorts of excuses, that is why the Prancing Horse drivers will see the start of the opening round of the season here in Melbourne from the sixth and eighth rows of the grid: Fernando Alonso was twelfth this afternoon and Felipe Massa sixteenth. Clearly, tomorrow’s 58 laps will be all about keeping out of trouble in the notoriously tricky middle of the pack, while hoping to exploit the fact that the Ferraris have a history of being very good off the line when the lights go out, in making up some places. But there will be no miracles, therefore points, not podiums are the more likely targets here in Australia.

It has to be said that the overall results of qualifying have not produced a really clear cut picture as to the order the teams might find themselves in. McLaren went well over the winter and backed that up by making the front row their own – Lewis Hamilton on pole and Jenson Button alongside him. Row 2 provides one of the big surprises in that while the Lotus has looked good in Jerez and Barcelona, it was not Kimi Raikkonen who shone, but his less experienced team-mate Romain Grosjean, the Frenchman taking third spot on the grid. He is the only driver in the top two rows not to have won a world title, as he shares it with fourth placed Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes. Red Bull was expected to be the dominant force yet again, but at least this afternoon, that was not the case, as both cars occupy Row 3, Mark Webber in fifth place and Sebastian Vettel sixth.

Fernando has a rookie alongside him in the shape of Jean-Eric Vergne in the Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso, while Felipe finds himself on the outside of Paul di Resta in the Force India.