By Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
With the Winter break and testing period now over, the 2011 Formula One season has finally arrived. Although the majority of the drivers line up remains the same, there are a few new additions making their debut for the opening race at the Albert Park Circuit.
The four new faces that took to the track for their first qualifying include the Venezuelan, Pastor Maldonado, who takes the second Williams seat alongside Rubens Barrichello. Despite being the newest member of the team, Maldonado brings some solid racing experience to the role. This includes involvement in the Italian Formula Renault, World Series by Renault, and he was test driver for Minardi in the 2005 season. His greatest achievement came last season during GP2, where he became Series Champion. Last year, he also had tests with Hispania Racing and Williams, with the latter offering him a race seat for this season.
Next is the Scotsman Paul Di Resta, who partners Adrian Sutil for Force India. Like Maldonado, Di Resta also has a good racing background. His career to date includes participation in Formula Renault, Formula Three and from 2007; he took part in the DTM (German Touring Cars) Series. Last year, he took the title of the DTM under the Mercedes team. He also had F1 commitments in 2010 with Force India, with his role as test and reserve driver, before securing a more permanent position with them this year.
The Sauber team have also got a new face joining their team, in the form of Mexican driver Sergio Perez, whose team mate is the feisty Japanese, Kamui Kobayashi. Perez has a variety of racing experience from his time in Formula BMW, Formula Three, and more recently in the GP2 Asia and GP2 Series. He ended the 2010 season as GP2 Series runner-up, and had a test with BMW Sauber, which saw him take the drive with them for this season.
The fourth and final team where it is a matter of experience versus new territory is the Virgin Racing team. Alongside Timo Glock is the Belgian, Jerome d’Ambrosio. As with Maldonado and Perez, d’Ambrosio also took part in the GP2 Series last year. Aside from his commitments in GP2, he had tests with Renault and Virgin, with the latter being the team to give him his Formula One opportunity. His previous racing experience in other series, includes; French and Italian Formula Renault.
As qualifying got underway earlier on today, all drivers were starting a fresh as they took the track. All eyes were not only on the reigning World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, and his closest rivals from 2010, but also those who were getting their first taste of a Formula One race weekend.
By the end of Q1 the four rookies had given an impressive first performance. Six out of the seven drivers to bow out of the first session were already current in the sport, with only d’Ambrosio losing out to his other new rivals, who got themselves through to Q2.
D’Ambrosio explained how his first qualifying experience went.
“I’m very happy with the progress made this weekend and this has ensured we can look forward to the race tomorrow. On a personal level this was my first qualifying session and I was able to see exactly what was required and where I have to improve”.
Unfortunately, as Q2 came to a close, the final three new additions could not quite find the pace to keep up with the rest of the field. However, of the new drivers making their debut in the sport, it was not only Di Resta who came out of the woodwork and made a surprising achievement.
“I think if you’d have said that we would be starting the race from P14 going in to qualifying, we’d have been pretty happy. So for my first qualifying session I think we have to be happy with our result today and it gives me a place to build on for the future.” commented Di Resta.
A mistake from his team mate Sutil, saw the German slip down the grid by a few places. Sutil still seems to be getting to grips with the new moveable rear wing on his car. He spun the Force India as he activated the Drag Reduction System (DRS) and hit the kerb in the process. This meant Di Resta qualified ahead to take fourteenth position, leaving Sutil two places below in sixteenth position.
Perez also impressed over his team mate Barrichello and Di Resta, as he pipped the Scot to thirteenth place.
Despite facing some problems in final practice, Perez remains positive about the outcome of qualifying and his chances in the race.
“My first qualifying started quite well with P6 in Q1, and this was mainly because in the third free practice I couldn’t run on soft tyres and low fuel as we lost a lot of time due to a hydraulic problem…Today a better result was possible, and this is a shame. But generally I feel very comfortable and hope for a good race tomorrow with some points at the end.”
Like Sutil, Barrichello also suffered a spin, which sent him out of Q2. The Brazilian went off the track at Turn three, and landed his Williams in the gravel as a result.
Maldonado came next to take fifteenth position, ahead of the Australian Grand Prix tomorrow.
“We need to improve a bit, but overall the car is good and I feel optimistic. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and I really think points are possible,” explained Maldonado.
Whereas, d’Ambrosio was not quite so lucky and finished out of the trio, as he qualified down in twenty-second place.
Although their real test will come when the lights go out for their race tomorrow, the newest men on the track will already be in a good position, compared to that of Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan. Both Hispania Racing cars initially failed to qualify, within 107 per cent of Vettel’s qualifying lap in Q1. With this now being part of the ruling, after deliberation from the FIA it has now been confirmed, that neither drivers will be able to take part in the race.