It was a stunning Saturday for some and a shocker for others on their return to Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix.
Here’s who we think were the big winners and losers in qualifying…
LEEET'S GO! 🚀
Superb lap by @Charles_Leclerc!
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) April 9, 2022
I mean, this goes without saying, doesn’t it? The Monegasque collected his 11th pole position in Formula 1 and this was one of the most impressive.
Being the only man to finish in the top two in every practice session, Leclerc perhaps headed into qualifying as the slight favourite but did not look to be at his best in Q1 and Q2, making a few mistakes and finishing in P3 both times. When it really mattered though, he delivered.
The battle for pole position between himself and the Red Bulls looked to be a tight one after the first few laps in Q3, but he quite frankly blew them out of the water with his final run which was nothing short of perfect.
Only Max Verstappen could get within three tenths of his time – and only just – while his team-mate was a second and a half slower than him.
Leclerc’s name has always been mentioned in debates about who is the best driver on the grid in terms of outright one-lap pace but at this rate, there will not be much of a debate at all before long.
McLaren headed to Albert Park cautiously optimistic that the new, faster layout would suit their car fairly well, but even they were not expecting as good a Saturday as they ended up having.
Hopes began to rise after a strong FP3 which they topped courtesy of Lando Norris, and it proved to be a sign of things to come as the Briton and Daniel Ricciardo made it into Q3 for the first time this season and comfortably too.
Zak Brown and co would have probably been happy with P9 and P10 at that point, let alone a second-row start, but that is what Norris got as he pipped the Mercs to P4. Ricciardo could have been up there with him too if not for a disappointing final run – he was looking good in Q1 and Q2.
With an Alpine and a Ferrari coming from behind as well as the Silver Arrows who will most likely have stronger race pace, it will be tough for the pair to score big points. But seemingly having the fifth fastest car, the team have undoubtedly taken a big step in the right direction down under.
Schumacher had one of the best qualifying records on the grid last year but with Kevin Magnussen faster than him in the first two Saturdays of 2022, you could not help but start to wonder if that was only because he had been up against a rather slow team-mate in Nikita Mazepin. He needed to show that was not the case – and he did.
The German was faster than the Dane throughout Q1, being ahead of him for its entirety, and ultimately made it into Q2 while Magnussen was knocked out, with a tenth and a half between the Haas pair.
He was perhaps slightly helped by the fact K-Mag was feeling unwell at the start of the weekend, but to steal a phrase from the world of football you can only beat what is in front of you. If he did not, questions would have started to be asked.
To fully ensure that is not the case, Mick needs to be the stronger Haas driver on race day too, but he has already given himself a good chance of doing that, getting his weekend off to the ideal start.
All of us
The Australian Grand Prix has not always been the most exciting race in recent times, but looking at the starting grid we have we are feeling confident that will not be the case this time around.
At the very front, there looks set to be quite the battle for victory. Leclerc may have the fastest car but he will be on his own against two Red Bulls, both of whom have looked quick themselves, getting the most out of their machinery.
Further back, meanwhile, Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz will be fighting their way through the field, while the prospect of Norris, Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell all battling it out with evenly-matched cars is a mouth-watering one.
What’s more, with these cars and the new layout, the fights for position should play out on track with wheel-to-wheel racing, rather than solely in the pits with strategy as they have in the past.
In the past, those on the western side of the world have often wished they had stayed in bed after getting up at ungodly hours to watch the race. This year though, we reckon it will be worth the alarms being set.
After being second best to Leclerc in the Middle East, Sainz really needed to strike back in Melbourne. Instead, he dropped even further back.
He got his fair share of bad luck in Q3 with the red flag stopping him from completing his first lap and an initial start-up failure in the garage after that not giving him enough time to warm up his tyres for his final run.
As a result, he will be starting down in P9 while his team-mate will be on pole. He will be fighting in the midfield while his team-mate will be fighting for the win.
Ever since Ferrari signed him, there has been talk of the team making him play second fiddle to Leclerc. He did not let that happen last year, but that fate seems to be getting ever closer now.
After a solid if unspectacular first two rounds, El Plan looked to finally be set in motion at Albert Park, but Alpine could not make the most of their excellent pace.
On one side of the garage, Alonso looked set to battle it out for a top-three start and maybe even pole position when a hydraulics failure caused him to crash out. On the other, Esteban Ocon has not had the pace the Spaniard has throughout the weekend.
As a result, despite looking to have one of the three fastest cars on the grid, the team will only start the race in P8 and P10. Scoring the big points they would have been hoping for will be a tall order.
While they can take a lot of positives from this weekend given how good they have looked, they may end up looking back on it as a missed opportunity.
— Haas F1 Team (@HaasF1Team) April 9, 2022
Haas were one of the strongest midfield teams in the first two race weekends but look to have dropped way down the order again.
While Schumacher being able to take the fight to Magnussen for the first time is a good sign for them, it will have provided little solace given the Dane went out in Q1 and the German only just made it through.
Guenther Steiner is not panicking just yet and says he is confident they still have the strong pace they have already shown this year, but the Italian and his colleagues will no doubt be feeling a little nervous.
In the midfield battle every point counts, and it looks like the American team will not be getting any this weekend. They just have to hope it is not a sign of things to come.
Lawrence and Lance Stroll have both long been criticised for the former giving his son, a driver many feel does not deserve a seat, a place in the Aston Martin team. Such criticisms were already as widespread as ever after stand-in Nico Hulkenberg had outqualified the Canadian in the season opener, and that will continue to be the case after qualifying in Australia.
Stroll exited when he crashed into compatriot Nicholas Latifi and while he initially denied it, there is little doubt he was at fault for the incident.
The Aston Martin passed the Williams driver before immediately slowing down in front of him. As a result, Latifi went to get back ahead of him and Stroll turned into him, causing them to crash.
Either the 23-year-old was not looking in his mirrors properly and did not know Latifi was there, or did not want to be passed so much that he was willing to crash instead. Either way, it was the sort of error a driver that has been on the grid since 2017 should not be making, and earned him a penalty.
With such errors, he is costing his father a lot of money and causing him a lot of headaches.
Sebastian Vettel’s wallet
Speaking of money, Vettel has had to fork out a lot this weekend, with his fines for riding a scooter on track and speeding in the pit lane costing him almost £5,000.
Still, something tells us he can afford it…
Highlights from Australian Grand Prix qualifying
There were mixed fortunes up and down the grid as Charles Leclerc took pole in Australia.