F1 2016 Australian Grand Prix qualifying: Hamilton chases pole position

PUBLISHED: 20:07 18 March 2016 | UPDATED: 20:07 18 March 2016

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton during practice for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Mercedes-Benz]

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton during practice for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Mercedes-Benz]

Mercedes-Benz

Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton goes in qualifying for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix on Saturday looking to repeat last year's pole position.

The 31-year-old Mercedes AMG Petronas driver from Hertfordshire topped the timesheets in Melbourne on Friday in both practice sessions.

However, intermittent showers interrupted running at Albert Park, meaning third practice will be crucial for car set-up ahead of the first qualifying session of the 2016 season.

Paddy Lowe, Mercedes’ executive director (technical), said: “We have a lot of work to do in FP3 tomorrow to prepare for qualifying and the race – but it’s the same for everybody.

“We’re looking forward to seeing how it all plays out and hoping for some dry weather.”

Those comments about the weather were echoed by three-time world champion Hamilton, who will be looking for a flying start to the season with a front row grid position in Australian GP qualifying.

He said: “Hopefully it’ll be a dry day tomorrow so we can get plenty of laps in and give something back to the fans who have braved the weather today.”

Mercedes chief Paddy Lowe added: “The first qualifying session of the year is, for me, the most exciting hour of the whole Formula One calendar.

“This is where you get your final exam marks for all the hard work over the many months needed to put together a new car.

“It’s the first time we see all of the cars and drivers on the limit – gloves off, flat out.

Circuit stats

* 2015 winner: Lewis Hamilton 58 laps, 1:31:54.067s

* 2015 pole position: Lewis Hamilton 1m26.327s

* 2015 fastest lap: Lewis Hamilton 1m30.945s (lap 50)

* Name: Albert Park

* First race: 1996

* Circuit length: 5.303km/3.295 miles (12th longest track of the year)

* Distance to Turn One: 350m/0.217 miles (longest of season: Barcelona, 730m/0.454 miles)

* Longest straight: 860m/0.534 miles (longest of season: China, 1.17km/0.727 miles)

* Top speed: 305km/h/190mph, on the approach to Turn One (fastest of season: Monza, 350km/h/217mph)

* Pitlane length: 280m/0.714 miles, estimated time loss 21s (longest of season: Interlagos, 380m/0.236 miles)

* Full throttle: 61 per cent (highest of season: Monza, 75 per cent)

* DRS zones: Two, on the approaches to Turns One and Three

* Key corner: The Esses at Turns 11 and 12. The minimum apex speed is 225km/h (140 mph) and negative camber at the exit makes it easy to run wide.

* Fastest corner: 275km/h (171mph), Turn Eight

* Slowest corner: 84km/h (52mph), Turn 15

* Major changes for 2016: No changes to layout, a few alterations to kerbing, run-off and Astroturf

* Fuel consumption: 1.7kg per lap, third highest of the season due to the amount of acceleration bursts from low speed

* ERS demands: Medium

* Brake wear: High, there are seven big stops from more than 230km/h (143 mph)

* Gear changes: 56 per lap / 3,248 per race

“Once you get through qualifying and see where you stand, good or bad, a lot of that winter tension is relieved and translated into plans for the future.

“Whether it’s maintaining a gap or closing on a target ahead, the objective becomes clear.”

Despite Friday’s wet weather in Australia, Hamilton is very happy with his new F1 W07 Mercedes challenger.

Circuit facts

* History lesson:

A permanent fixture on the F1 calendar since 1996, Albert Park did in fact host grands prix many decades earlier.

It was home to the non-championship Australian GP in the 1950s, a race twice won by Stirling Moss.

* What makes the track unique:

The bumpy pit straight. These bumps create severe pitch oscillation, which makes the car challenging to set up.

The aerodynamicists want to run it hard; the engineers want to run it soft and a compromise has to be reached for best overall performance.

* Grip levels:

Low. This is a street circuit, used just once a year, and it’s very slippery until some rubber gets laid down during practice.

Drivers need to be wary of the negative camber, particularly at corner exit.

* Run-off: Substantial, but mistakes are punished because there’s a mix of grass and gravel awaiting errant cars.

Remember Martin Brundle flying through the air in his Jordan in ’96?

* Watch out for…

Sunset. The 16:00hrs start (local time) means the sun gets low and into the drivers’ line of vision towards the end of the race.

Looking back to pre-season in Spain, Hamilton said: “Testing was just incredible – the best I can remember in my career.

“The car feels even better than last year’s from both a performance and reliability perspective, which is saying something.

“It’s all so refined in every area and we can be really proud of what we’ve achieved over the winter.”

Event facts

* First Australian Grand Prix: Adelaide 1985

* Slogan: “It’s a great place for the race”

* Australia’s F1 heritage

The Australian Grand Prix has been staged at two different venues: Adelaide (1985-’95) and Melbourne (1996-present). There have been 13 Australian F1 drivers since the inauguration of the World Championship in 1950 and two Australian World Champions – Jack Brabham and Alan Jones. Jack remains the only driver in history to win the world title in his own car.

* Smallest winning margin

0.702s, in 1998. Mika Hakkinen came home just ahead of McLaren team-mate David Coulthard

* Sporting legacy:

As well as the Australian F1 Grand Prix, Melbourne hosts the Australian Open tennis, the Melbourne Cup horse race, surfing world championships at Bells Beach and, just 50kms down the road at Philip Island, the Australian MotoGP race.

Hamilton added: “I’ve been with this team for four years now and, despite all the success, everyone just keeps raising the bar every season, which is super impressive.

“I know that the guys and girls will keep pushing for more top results, so it’s up to us drivers to go out there and nail it for them on track.

“People keep asking me about motivation – but I just have to look at the faces of all those people to know what I’m fighting for.

“Together, we’re always searching for perfection.

“But that target is always shifting and you’re constantly faced with new challenges to reach it.

“Just as you think you’re close, suddenly you fall further back – like someone dangling a carrot on a piece of string and whipping it away just as you reach for it.

“It’s tough mentally – but that’s a good thing, as it forces you to be resilient and seek improvement in every area.

“I know there’s still more to come from me. I think I’ve shown that in the past two years.

“There certainly needs to be some extra in my tank, as the competition will be stronger than ever this year.”

Looking ahead to the 2016 campaign, Hamilton said: “There are a few things that will make it even more challenging for all of us this season, too.

“The changes to the radio rules will have a big impact.

“The engineers now can’t give you prompts or reminders that might affect performance during the race, so you have to remember so much more.

“This even applies to strategy, so when it’s shifting throughout the race you won’t be in the loop.

“It will be tough – but hopefully it will make for more exciting races.”

Picking up on the challenge of Ferrari and Co, Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said: “We expect the competition to be tougher than ever this year.

“Expectations are high, both internally and externally.

“But Ferrari look confident and there will likely be other teams involved in the battle.

“Testing is about clocking mileage and understanding the car, so there is no clear order at this point.

“But if it were to be this way, that’s something we would enjoy. We are racers and we love a challenge.

“Having an enemy pumps you up for a battle – and having strong competitors motivates us to push even harder.”

Frequent showers, blustery winds and generally changeable conditions on the first day of practice made it difficult for anyone to obtain an accurate read on overall performance.

Nonetheless, after a troubled 2015 season, the McLaren-Honda team demonstrated its adaptability by consistently running competitively as it drilled through a series of evaluative tests and checks during the afternoon.

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso said afterwards: “I think we’re feeling quite happy after today.

“It’s nice to be back here in Melbourne: sometimes, when you come away from testing and go to a different circuit, you receive a pleasant surprise… or an unpleasant surprise. Well, today, we received a pleasant surprise.

“We more or less completed our programme – there were a few things we couldn’t quite accomplish, because we didn’t have enough dry running, but it was the same for everyone and we’ll hopefully run through our braking and ride-height checks tomorrow.

“Looking ahead to qualifying tomorrow, we have a clear and structured plan. Because we’ll be running both cars at the same time, we’ll need everything to be organised and synchronised between the two pit-crews so that they can focus on both cars simultaneously.

“Nevertheless, it’s a new system, and some teams will inevitably make mistakes with it during these early races, but I hope McLaren-Honda won’t be one of them.”

McLaren team-mate Jenson Button added: “For qualifying tomorrow, I think it’s important that the fans know what’s happening. The fans are a big part of this sport, and it’s important that they understand the reasons for the change.

“I reckon some teams and drivers will make mistakes in quali during the next few races, but I think we’re well prepared.”

Eric Boullier, the McLaren-Honda racing director, said: “We know there’s work to be done, but today has shown that we’ve made real progress – both in terms of reliability and in terms of performance.

“Given the unpredictable and changeable conditions facing us for both Saturday and Sunday, therefore, we’re well placed to maximise our potential this weekend.”

Qualifying starts at 6am GMT on Saturday.

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