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Vettel takes Melbourne pole

NEWS STORY
26/03/2011

If this morning's final free practice session was anything to go by, Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel don't need to worry about handing back their Constructors' and Drivers' Championship trophies at the end of the year. With the German finishing 0.857s ahead of his teammate it looks like 'business as usual' in 2011.

What was interesting is that McLaren maintained the form shown on Friday while Mercedes appeared to lose out to Renault. Williams had a bit of a nightmare, indeed, had the 107% rule applied Maldonado would have found himself not qualifying along with D'Ambrosio and the Hispania duo.

Tyre options this weekend are hard (prime) and soft (option) and this is when it gets interesting. Thus far the degradation has not been as bad as expected, then again, conditions have been better than expected. However, with three sets of each available for this session and tomorrow's race this is when the fun could begin.

Other than the tyres, the other thing we're waiting to see is the effectiveness of the movable rear wing (DRS) which should - according to the powers that be - really come into its own in this session and the race. Then again, there are many who regard it as a gimmick too far and, with an eye on the fact that the FIA appear to be changing the rules as they go along, hope it is dropped before too long.

As we await the start of Q1, the air temperature is 16 degrees C while the track temperature is 18 degrees. It remains overcast and quite windy though humidity is 65%.

Vitaly Petrov heads down the pitlane to get the first qualifying session of what will be a long, long season underway. He is followed by Heidfeld, Kovalainen, Trulli, Liuzzi and D'Ambrosio.

Fernando Alonso, for one, finds the going tough in his Ferrari as he skates his way around the circuit. He isn't alone as lots of the drivers are clearly struggling for grip. That said, most of the front runners are confident enough to run the harder compound Pirelli in the opening phase.

Liuzzi gradually brings his lap times down though the Hispania duo's pace is some way off its rivals, Karthikeyan wanders across the track forcing Virgin's Jerome D'Ambrosio to take avoiding action.

Ultimately however the pair are outside the 107%, Vettel's 1:25.296 setting the cut off at 1:31.266. Liuzzi got closest, though he was still 1.7s outside the time while Karthikeyan was a full three seconds off the pace.

Defying suggestions they wouldn't qualify both Virgin drivers have made the cut though D'Ambrosio cut it closer than he'd have liked, just 0.4s inside the required time.

Of those eliminated the surprise is Heidfeld in the Renault, well down on his teammate with a 1:27.239. It is a disappointing start to his Renault career, though it is a ringing endorsement for the ever improving Petrov.

So, at the end of Q1 we lose, Heidfeld, Kovalainen, Trulli, Glock, D'Ambrosio, Liuzzi and Karthikeyan.

Jaime Alguersuari is first out for Q2 closely followed by teammate Buemi. Barrichello follows the Toro Rosso pair however, a spin at the infamous Turn 3 after dropping a wheel onto the grass sees the Brazilian beached leaving him 17th for tomorrow's race.

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