Just over five hours until The Chain plays for 2011’s first qualifying

Posted on March 25, 2011

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Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix gets underway in just a few hours and little is clear beyond the fact it is all very exciting.

Could McLaren have engineered a miracle? Unlikely. Credit: McLaren

Like many others, I see little outcome other than the Red Bull cars pummeling the opposition though hopefully it will be closer than that. Like last season, especially over one lap, I get the feeling they know there is always that extra tenth in the car, regardless of what everyone else can manage.

McLaren put in an unexpected show in FP2 after dire winter testing. I fear it was a glory run but it might be enough to get them in the mix for an unpredictable race. Clearly some of the more adventurous components have been taken off the car and this has helped.

It could be a very close weekend. It is certainly possible to imagine Mercedes, Renault and even Williams mixing it up with the three teams at the front, especially as no one really knows how the tyres will work in qualifying.

Certainly the space for mistakes is much bigger – the drivers are likely to have ust one shot at a time in each qualifying session. In the race, anything could happen on the new rubber.

At the back, a quiet disaster would seem to be unfolding with Virgin and HRT. The former were not within 107% during practice on Friday and may not qualify, while the latter have turned only a single installation lap on one of the cars. Team Lotus have shown it doesn’t have to be this way, despite Karun Chandhok trashing a car in a matter of seconds. They’re slow but inside the margin, a professional outfit and I expect the car to be reliable.

But if we reach Sunday morning with three or four cars parked in the garage questions will quickly rise up again about the wisdom of some of these teams being on the grid.

Predictions are a mug’s game. But I’ll pick Webber for the pole and Vettel, Alonso and Webber for the podium.

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