BMW's Robert Kubica only lost pole with a mistake, but Lewis Hamilton's fastest time and Heikki Kovalainen in third represents a strong start to McLaren's season, despite a close call with an overnight repair job on Kovalainen's gearbox. "Hopefully today's result represents our performance for the future," said boss Ron Dennis.
After a conspicuously low profile start to the weekend for the German team, Robert Kubica would have bagged pole if not for running too wide on the dirt at turn-12. The Pole and his teammate Nick Heidfeld topped the morning practice times, and Kubica's second on the grid, and Heidfeld not far away with fifth, is the team's best ever qualifying showing.
A fuel pump failure in Q1 left Kimi Raikkonen with only marshal-power in the pit entry, stranding him at sixteenth on the grid. Felipe Massa completed the pre-season favorites' off-color day with just fourth place. "We knew from this winter that we would struggle a bit to do quick times over a single lap," said Luca Baldisserri.
Jarno Trulli is a credible sixth on the grid, and Timo Glock impressively joined him in Q3 in his return to formula one. However, the reigning GP2 champion will drop five places for an unscheduled gearbox change, and a further five places – to a lowly nineteenth overall – after stewards ruled that he unfairly blocked Mark Webber.
A mixed bag for the British team, with Nico Rosberg a solid seventh, but rookie teammate Kazuki Nakajima failing to join him in the final-ten Q3 by a wide margin.
The team's press release made mention of 'the fast and the furious' — referring not only to the street-racing movie but to 'fast' David Coulthard, eighth, and 'furious' Mark Webber, whose suspected exploded brake disc in Q2 pitched him into the gravel at turn 6, caused a disruptive red flag, and left him fifteenth on the grid for his home race near the end of an impressive weekend.
Sebastian Vettel continued to drive last year's car well as he broke into Q3, but the Red Bull junior team said an unspecified 'technical problem' prevented him from doing any running in the ultimate session. Rookie Sebastien Bourdais never made it through Q1, blaming a mistake and a yellow flag for his spoiled runs.
The struggling Japanese giant threatened to upset the form-guide and make it through to Q3, but ultimately its drivers settled in eleventh and thirteenth places. Rubens Barrichello was delighted that recent testing progress at Jerez delivered eleventh on the grid in Australia, but Jenson Button said he made mistakes because he was pushing too hard.
Fernando Alonso dropped from third in a topsy-turvy morning practice to be just twelfth in qualifying, and the most remarkable factor is that the former title-winning team was the ninth fastest car on Saturday afternoon of the eleven in the field. The French squad said the Spaniard was carrying a differential problem, but the excuses were less convincing for the continuation of Nelson Piquet's disastrous debut weekend, as he split the Super Aguris for twenty-first place.
All the pre-season hype, and mysterious testing and practice pace, including ninth again for Giancarlo Fisichella in the morning, culminated in grid positions seventeen and nineteen (Adrian Sutil). The team explained the discrepancy by referring to Sutil's spin into the gravel in Q1, and the need for Fisichella to 'lift off' for the resultant yellow flags. The Roman was then called before the stewards to explain how his best lap of the day was set after he drove through a yellow flag at speed, but escaped with a reprimand.
They were split by the abysmally slow rookie Piquet, but Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson settled at the rear of the grid as Super Aguri's awful 2008 opener entered a second day. Dead-last Davidson is still a long way of his team mate's pace, with Sato saying he was 'very pleased' to be only a couple of tenths shy of the car ahead of him.