Motorsports Mondial

Bulls Slaughtered in the Park

Photo. PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty

Hammy hammers a fast lap and Grosjean goes quick. F1 is back!

The 2012 Formula 1 season starts Sunday in Albert Park, Melbourne. It’s an all-McLaren front row with Lewis Hamilton starting from the 20th pole position of his career, which started here five years ago in grand style with a podium finish.

“Incredible feeling to be back here,” said the 2008 World Champion in the press conference after the qualifying session was over.

Teammate Jenson Button, winner of the Australian Grand Prix in 2009 & ‘10, was looking for his first pole position as a McLaren driver but was unable to beat Hamilton’s time of 1m 24.922s and will start on the front row, claiming the team’s performance is “only the beginning.”

Romain Grosjean led the return of French drivers in F1 – three in qualifying – and was Saturday’s biggest surprise. The 2011 GP2 Champion was all smiles after placing his Lotus-Renault third on the grid.

He will share row two with Michael Schumacher. Best qualifying result for the seven-time world champion since his return with Mercedes.

The reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull team were expected to continue their domination from the previous two seasons. Friday’s wet-dry session resulted in whispers of sand bagging, but the third and final practice session indicated the Red Bull stampede may be coming to an end.

“McLarens were out of reach today,” said the youngest double world champion and race winner here last year. Vettel will start sixth next to his Australian teammate Mark Webber.

The second Mercedes of Nico Rosberg will start on the inside of row four. The German at one time looked good to grab his first career pole position. Next to him will be Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela in his Williams-Renault.

Nico Hulkenberg is the fourth German in top ten. His Force India-Mercedes starts next to second Aussie mate in the race, Daniel Ricciardo in his Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso. His French teammate Jean-Eric Vergne will start 11th on the grid in his very first Formula 1 race.

Ferrari Fever

The Reds were never a threat and both cars failed to reach Q3. Numero Uno Fernando Alonso was not a happy camper after he was trapped in the gravel and did not get the requested push from the marshals. He will share the sixth row with Vergne.

Felipe Massa, the lost man in Maranello, qualified 16th.

The HRT-Cosworth cars of Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan were outside the 107% rule. Both drivers were over seven seconds slower than Hamilton’s pole winning time.

Formula 1 first came to Albert Park to open the 1996 season and Jacques Villeneuve made a dramatic Grand Prix debut and put his Williams on pole.

Last year the race was won by Vettel over Hamilton. Vitaly Petrov was third and became the first Russian on an F1 podium.

— Nasir Hameed

Greetings and vegemite sandwich regards.