With all the bickering about the new qualifying format, the final session has thrown another typical result with Lewis Hamilton starting the season opener from pole position. It is another Mercedes front-row lockout, followed by a second row lockout by the Ferraris with Sebastian Vettel in third and Kimi Raikkonen in fourth.
The qualifying elimination format has drawn more flack today than the result, not just by the scribes in the pressroom, but especially the drivers and F1 fans. In terms of timings, the Ferraris are closer to Mercedes than the previous season, but the last stint by Nico and Lewis in Q3 countered the possibility of a different result. They tried a new qualifying format, but the result has been an anti-climax.
The elimination format involves the slowest drivers being eliminated at 90 second intervals towards the end of each segment. Did it manage to spice up things? Well, the post-qualifying media sessions saw 99 percent of the paddock requesting the format to be removed for future races.
In Q1, the eliminated drivers were Pascal Wehrlein (Manor), Rio Haryanto (Manor), Esstebban Gutierrez (Haas), Romain Grosjean (Haas), Daniil Kyvat (Red Bull), and Felipe Nasr (Sauber). Kyvatt was the surprising elimination of the session. It was a delight seeing Fernando Alonso on the top of the time charts for a brief period in P2, until he got pipped by former Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa (Williams). However, Hamilton topped the timesheet in the first session – a second adrift the rest of the pack.
In Q2, the eliminations were Marcus Ericsson (Sauber), Kevin Magnussen (Renault), Jolyon Palmer (Renault), Jenson Button (McLaren), Fernando Alonso (McLaren), Valtterri Bottas (Williams), and Nico Hulkenberg (Force India). The two McLarens qualified ahead of the two Saubers, Renaults, Manors, and Haas drivers. Hulkenberg will start in P10 behind his team mate Sergio Perez. The surprise package of the session was Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), who had the fourth fastest time of the session.
In Q3, an eight-way fight for pole position got underway, with Lewis retaining his pole with the two Ferraris behind him. It wasn't until the final moments of the session when Nico jumped into the battle. Hamilton, who had gone into the pits, came out again and denied his teammate the opportunity to start Sundays proceedings from pole position. Lewis was 0.36 seconds faster than his teammate. Toro Rossos Max Verstappen has been the surprise package who finished fifth fastest on the timesheet, to complete the top-5 on the grid.
As far as the FIA goes, the post-race conference did witness the top three drivers feeling apologetic towards the fans due to the new qualifying format and all three felt it needs to be reconsidered as there was huge criticism by team personnel and the drivers, too.
Lewis takes the 50th pole of his career and becomes the first driver to take pole under the new qualifying format. Devoid all criticism, the important takeaway is in the speed traps and sectors where the Ferraris are very close to the Silver Arrows on various compounds, and it should be a tough fight tomorrow.
Session result\:1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1\:23.8372. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1\:24.1973. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 1\:24.6754. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1\:25.0335. Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, 1\:2\:4346. Felipe Massa, Williams, 1\:15.4587. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1\:25.5828. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 1\:25.5899. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1\:25.75310. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 1\:25.86511. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 1\:25.96112. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 1\:26.12513. Jenson Button, McLaren, 1\:26.30414. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, 1\:27.60115. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, 1\:27.742
16. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1\:27.43517. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, 1\:27.95818. Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull, 1\:28.00619. Romain Grosjean, Haas, 1\:28.32220. Esteban Gutierrez, Haas, 1\:29.60621. Rio Haryanto, Manor, 1\:29.62722. Pascal Wehrlein, Manor, 1\:29.642