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REIGNING world champion Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) laid down the gauntlet to all the other drivers on the grid who will challenge for his crown this year.

The youngest ever F1 world champion stormed his away to pole position for the first race of the 2011 season in Australia. His fastest Q3 lap time around the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne was 1:23.529 – an average speed of 142.011mph.

The former holder of the title ‘Youngest world champion’, Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), will line up alongside Vettel on the front row after setting a lap of 1:24.307. Yes Vettel really is on pole by 0.778 seconds. Home favourite Mark Webber (Red Bull) is third on the grid after setting a lap of 1:24.395.

The rest of the top ten are from fourth to tenth: Jenson Button (McLaren), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Vitaly Petrov (Renault), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) and Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso).

Petrov, Kobayashi and Buemi all surprised me by getting into Q3. Buemi was probably luckier to be in Q3 than the other two, but the more established order of drivers had a bad time of it in Q2.

The drivers who fell in Q2 and thus making up places 11 – 17 on the grid are (in order): Michael Schumacher (Mercedes), Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso), Sergio Perez (Sauber), Paul di Resta (Force India), Pastor Maldonado (Williams), Adrian Sutil (Force India) and Rubens Barrichello (Williams).

Schumacher only just missed out on Q3, but in F1 ‘just’ is the difference between winning and losing. Sutil and Barrichello both had embarrassing spins during the 15 minute session.  Sutil spun on the start-finish straight after putting left-rear wheel on the grass and opening his rear-wing flap (Draft Reduction System – DRS) at the same time, while Barrichello dropped his Williams in the gravel trap at Stewart (Turn 14).

But things were worse for Nick Heidfeld (Renault). He was the big name to fall in Q1 and will start from 18th on the grid. Something tells me he is a) still a bit rusty having sat out most of last season, and b) Robert Kubica would have done much better. Petrov’s grid position backs this up.

The rest of the grid from 19th to 22nd is (again in order): Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli (both Lotus) and the Virgins of Timo Glock and Jérôme d’Ambrosio.

The two HRTs of Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan both failed to qualify for the Grand Prix, both of them falling victim to the reinstated 107% rule. In Q1 they needed to set a time of 1:31.266, but all they could respectively manage was a 1:32.978 and 1:34.293.

I foresee either Vettel or Hamilton winning this race. But with brand new Pirelli tyres, the fact it’s the first race of the season and that it’s Albert Park, the race is really anyone’s for the taking.   

PS: Good luck to all the rookies in this their first Grand Prix. That’s: Perez, di Resta, Maldonado and d’Ambrosio.

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