World champion Lewis Hamilton grabbed pole position for the Australian Grand Prix by six-tenths of a second from Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg on Saturday.
Hamilton set the pace with 1min 26.419sec midway through the final qualifying shoot-out and he lowered the time to 1:26.327 in the final seconds.
Williams’ Felipe Massa was third fastest followed by Sebastien Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in the two Ferraris, while home favourite Daniel Ricciardo was seventh for Red Bull.
McLaren, who struggled pre-season and have Fernando Alonso out after a crash in testing, suffered a nightmare outing with Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen at the back of the grid.
Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Romain Grosjean (Lotus) and Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) filled out the top 10.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 14, 2015
Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, set to become the youngest ever Formula One driver at 17 years and 166 days in Sunday’s race, was among the five drivers eliminated in Q2.
Verstappen, driving a Toro Rosso, finished 12th fastest and missed out along with Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat and Force India pair Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez.
After Sauber’s legal turmoil this week, finally resolved when Giedo van der Garde gave up his seat despite a court ruling in his favour, Nasr got to within 0.076sec of Q3.
The struggling McLarens of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen both failed to make Q2 after finishing 16th and 17th in the first stage and will start on the back row of the race grid.
— MERCEDES AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) March 14, 2015
Button, a three-time Australian Grand Prix winner, was a substantial 2.836sec off the pace, emphasising the McLaren’s problems since their incomplete off-season testing.
The last time Button qualified as low as 17th was at the 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix.
The McLarens were behind the Sauber pair of Nasr and Marcus Ericsson. Brazil’s Nasr scraped into the last spot in Q2 ahead of his team-mate Ericsson.
The Manor pair of Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi, who were unable to take part in practice as the new team gets on its feet, did not take part in qualifying.
Monisha Kaltenborn has no intention of quitting as team principal of Sauber despite being mired in legal controversy this week. Kaltenborn’s position has been drawn into sharp focus after appearing to have signed three drivers for the new season, but with naturally only two seats available.
The case with reserve driver Giedo van der Garde is to continue at the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne today, just a few miles from the Albert Park circuit. Kaltenborn, a trained lawyer, was unable to shed any light on the case given it remains ongoing.
But asked whether she was still competent to run the team, Kaltenborn replied: “I don’t see it (the case) having any effect.
“We have a very clear view of what we did. We took action after thinking about it for a while. For us that was very clear, but the outcome is different, and that’s all I can say.”
BREAKING NEWS: Giedo van der Garde ‘gives up legal right’ for Sauber drive http://t.co/F4tIY9c9rq
— Racingist (@racingist) March 14, 2015
Pressed on whether she had considered resigning, Kaltenborn added: “I’ve not considered that. “This whole matter does not have any effect on the way we work, the way the team works.”
Kaltenborn conceded the past week had affected morale. “It’s had a very negative impact on the team because the situation was, for a while, unclear. We now have certain actions taken against the team, and we are acting accordingly. There’s nothing much more I can say.”
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton put on an ominous show of force for Mercedes on Friday as Australian Grand Prix free practice was overshadowed by a legal row engulfing Sauber.
The Silver Arrows picked up where they left off last season, knocking Sebastien Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferraris off the top in the second session as they led both practices.
But events off the track dominated as the extraordinary dispute over Sauber’s driver line-up headed into a sixth day with threats of fines, jail and seizures of assets.
Giedo van der Garde’s lawyers argued Sauber was in contempt of court by not complying with an order to honour a contract with the Dutchman and let him drive in the season-opener.
As the case unfolded, van der Garde walked the paddock in Sauber overalls and drivers Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson sat garaged in stationary cars during opening practice.
But Nasr and Ericsson both drove in the second session, as the contempt hearing was adjourned until Saturday and the judge urged the two sides to pursue “sensible” discussions.
Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn was forced to defend her position with the Swiss outfit in disarray, after apparently signing up three drivers for their two cars.
— James Allen (@Jamesallenonf1) March 11, 2015
Kaltenborn, who should be fined or jailed according to van der Garde’s lawyers, insisted she had not considered resigning. But she admitted the row had affected the team.
“It’s definitely a very negative impact on the team,” she said, as she fended off a barrage of questions at a press conference. – ‘Ants in pants’
On the track, it was business as usual for Mercedes as Rosberg, last year’s race-winner, led Hamilton in the first two practice sessions of the new season.
Rosberg hailed a “great start for the team” and said it was again be a close-run thing with Hamilton, who sealed last year’s title in the final race.
Rosberg said. Hamilton said he was still working on set-up issues and warned that Mercedes would not be the only fast cars in qualifying on Saturday.
Rosberg clocked 1min 27.697sec in the second session, one-tenth faster than Hamilton, after shading his team-mate and fierce rival by three-hundredths in the first run-out.
Four-time world champion Vettel had an encouraging start with Ferrari when he finished six-hundredths off the two Mercedes in the second run, closely followed by Raikkonen.
And Vettel’s former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo had a frustrating day when he missed the second practice session after his Red Bull needed a change of Renault engine.
The second session was stopped when McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen, deputising for Fernando Alonso after his crash in testing, came off into the gravel at Turn 6.
Three-time race winner Jenson Button reported understeer problems with the other McLaren and Felipe Massa missed the second session due to a water leak in his Williams.
Day one of the 2015 season was not good for Manor, formed from the ashes of bankrupt Marussia, when they missed both sessions because of severe software problems.
Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen, set to become the youngest ever Formula One driver at 17 years and 166 days on Sunday, was sixth fastest in the first session but 14th in the second.
Sauber was earlier forced to hand over a list of assets to ensure it complies with this week’s Australian court order, raising the threat of seizures. But the two sides were reportedly engaging in constructive dialogue as hope rose for an amicable outcome.