F1 2016 Australian Grand Prix qualifying result: Hamilton claims pole position but new format is 'rubbish'
Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton claimed the 50th pole position of his career in Melbourne - but the revamped grand prix qualifying format was slammed by fans and teams afterwards in Australia.
The 31-year-old Mercedes F1 driver from Hertfordshire dominated qualifying for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, claiming his fifth pole position at the Albert Park circuit.
Nico Rosberg completed a Silver Arrows front row lockout for the opening race of the 2016 season in P2, with Sebastian Vettel third in qualifying for Ferrari.
However, the chaotic new elimination format was a huge anti-climax, with no drivers on track for the closing minutes of Q3, and qualifying was slammed as “unacceptable” and “embarrassing” by Sky F1 pundits.
There was widespread condemnation on Twitter, with F1 fans describing qualifying as a “shambles” and boring, while Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, called it “pretty rubbish” and a “damp squib”.
Red Bull Racing chief Christian Horner said F1 should “apologise” to fans, while Niki Lauda was even more scathing, saying the change was the “worst decision in F1”.
Getting back to the on-track action, both Mercedes drivers completed a single run in Q1 and Q2, and two runs in Q3, using the SuperSoft tyre throughout.
Hamilton was quickest in all three phases of qualifying, with his “sexy” pole lap of 1m 23.837s a massive 2.5 seconds faster than last year’s time.
The three-time world champion said: “I have to take my hat off to the team.
“What they’ve done to raise the bar once more, for the third year in a row, really inspires and motivates me.
“I really enjoyed driving the car in qualifying today.
2016 Australian Grand Prix qualifying result
Melbourne grid positions
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
4 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
5 Max Verstappen (Toro Rosso)
6 Felipe Massa (Williams)
7 Carlos Sainz Jnr (Toro Rosso)
8 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
9 Sergio Perez (Force India)
10 Nico Hulkenberg (Force India)
“We got the setup just right and they were some sexy laps! They felt so good – flowing nicely with no real mistakes.
“That’s all you can hope for – to always improve – and that’s what we’ve done, so I’m very happy.”
Despite going fastest in every session so far, Hamilton is not resting on his laurels, aware that no points are won on Saturdays.
He added: “There’s still a lot of work left to do tonight and especially tomorrow, though.
“There’s a lot more studying for us drivers with the changes to the radio rules.
Pictures of F1 2016 Australian Grand Prix practice
Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes garage ahead of the 2016 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Mercedes-Benz]
Lewis Hamilton on track during practice for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Mercedes-Benz]
Nico Rosberg on track 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]
Lewis Hamilton [Picture: Mercedes-Benz]
Lewis Hamilton, Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Mercedes-Benz]
Lewis Hamilton on track during practice for the 2016 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Mercedes-Benz]
Lewis Hamilton at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Mercedes-Benz]
Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix [Picture: Mercedes-Benz]
“We can’t be told if the strategy is changing through the race, so we have to be able to anticipate what’s happening if you end up in a different situation than expected.
“I’m excited. It’s a new thing and I hope it adds to the spectacle. I highly doubt it... but we shall see.”
Rosberg was second in qualifying with a lap of 1m 24.197s after Ferrari opted for only one run in Q3.
The Silver Arrows star said: “We have to be careful, as it’s very early days. But I have to say it’s very impressive how the team has come out as the quickest here by a good margin for the third year in a row.
“It’s amazing to see, as the risk when you’re dominating is that you start to become complacent.
“It’s a big risk too – one that we’ve seen before – but everyone seems to be pushing on through.
“Of course, I’m not happy with second place today. My last lap in Q3 was good, but Lewis just did a better job, so that’s it.
“Still, there are a lot of opportunities starting from P2 so I’m looking forward to the race.”
Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said: “First, it’s good to finally be back on track, especially with our cars on the front row after all the hard work over the winter.
“Congratulations to the whole team on a top job – and to Lewis on an impressive pole.
“Second, we need to look at the qualifying format again.
“I’m the first person to say that we shouldn’t talk the sport down but when the evidence is there before your eyes, you cannot shut them and deny reality.
“The new format is pretty rubbish – much too complicated to follow and a damp squib at the end with nobody running.
“These were the downsides that we expected to see – and they outweigh the upsides, that much is clear now.
“We wanted to listen to the promoters who were calling for a change, but my personal opinion is that we have found the wrong solution and we need to think carefully about what we do next.”
* Start time: 16:00hrs local / 05:00hrs GMT
* Race distance: 58 laps (full world championship points will be awarded after 75 per cent distance/43.5 laps)
* Safety Car likelihood: 48 per cent, relatively high
* When to press record: The start! The drivers haven’t raced for 15 weeks and some might be too anxious to get things underway. Remember 2003, when eight cars were eliminated in a pile-up at Turn One?
* Don’t put the kettle on… when the race reaches laps in the early teens and late 30s. These were the two pitstop windows during last year’s race
* Race forecast: 19 degrees, patchy cloud. Being a coastal location, Melbourne’s weather can change quickly.
* Tyre choices: Supersoft/Soft/Medium
Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe added: “As I said before the weekend, qualifying here is the most important hour of the year.
“It’s where you really see what kind of car you’ve got for the season and the first time you meet your competitors head on, on the limit, at maximum power and minimum weight.
“So, it’s been a very tense build-up to this session as always – and a hugely satisfying conclusion to see that we have a quick car once again.
“Both drivers put in good laps today and the forecast is looking better for tomorrow, so we look forward to a good race.”
McLaren-Honda pair Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button will start tomorrow’s Australian Grand Prix from 12th and 13th places on the grid respectively after demonstrating the pace and potential of the MP4-31 package in qualifying today.
The track was dry for the quali session, for the first time this weekend, and the team maintained the promise it first showed on Friday.
Both drivers comfortably graduated through Q1 and them, in the second session, they set solid initial times.
But, without any fresh sets of Supersofts remaining, they were unable to challenge thereafter, choosing not to run again.
Alonso said: “The car was fantastic today. I felt very comfortable and very happy with the performance of the car all weekend.
“We didn’t expect to be too fast here because our car is still limited in performance in certain areas.
“But we were more competitive than we anticipated, have some new things coming for in the next few races, and we’re looking to be stronger in the future.”
As for the controversial qualifying format, Alonso said: “Perhaps we need to give the new qualifying system a bit more time.
“However, I believe it favours the strongest teams and is a bit unfair towards the less competitive teams.
“Because we’d used two sets of Supersofts in Q1 – where I finished third – we only had one chance to run in Q2.
“On my first run I felt competitive, I was 10th, running under the same conditions and on the same rubber as everyone else.
“I was only 1.2s off the Mercedes, which was a nice surprise, but then I had to sit in the garage and watch how quali developed, which was a bit sad.
“Of course, the top teams don’t need to use both sets of Supersoft tyres in Q1, so the onus is on us to get back to being a top team again, and only use up one set of Options in Q1.
“But maybe we should do what Moto GP did in qualifying last year – where the less competitive teams could use softer tyres in qualifying. In Formula 1, we’ve chosen to do the opposite.”
McLaren colleague Button was 13th overall with a time of 1m 26.304s.
He said: “Twelfth and 13th on the grid is slightly better than we expected before we came here.
“The car didn’t feel too bad, although I think people struggled with the drop in temperature between FP3 and qualifying.
“I enjoyed driving the car, although, at the end of Q2, we didn’t have any Supersoft tyres left, and weren’t quite quick enough.”
Button added: “The only problem we encountered with the new qualifying regulations was in the pit-lane: the four cars behind us were being wheeled backwards into the garage at the same time as we were trying to stop in the box, change tyres and run again.
“It’s quite a narrow pit-lane here, so it turned into a bit of a mess.
“Winter testing was positive in terms of mileage, but less so in terms of pace, so we’re all positively surprised with how close we were to Williams and Force India.
“I actually believe we have a better race car than a qualifying car – which is a turnaround from last year – and our deployment is almost as good as anybody else’s, which will benefit us more in the races.”
Coming back to the qualifying changes, McLaren-Honda racing director Eric Boullier said: “Today’s qualifying hour was exciting for the first few minutes of Q1, but it then petered out very disappointingly.
“Like many of my opposite-numbers within other teams, on behalf of our sport, I have to say I’m saddened that the new qualifying format produced such a lacklustre spectacle.”