Even before qualifying there was some action in the field, with Pascal Wehrlein deciding that his fitness level wouldn’t allow him to do a race distance, replaced by GP2 Vice Champion and Ferrari test driver Antonio Giovinazzi.
Lance Stroll also hit the wall in free practice, and that meant the car needed a new gearbox, which comes with a five place grid penalty.
The clouds were also gathering around the circuit, some thinking that rain was possible for qualifying to provide some extra excitement.
Going green for the first time in the 2017 season, qualifying started with Stoffel Vandoorne, although only did an installation lap. It was teammate Fernando Alonso who was the first to set a lap, 1:27.4, with the Ferrari drivers following him. Vettel went nearly two seconds faster. Raikkonen had a slow lap, which was even beaten by rookie Giovinazzi.
Bottas on his first lap oversteered around the final section of the lap, with Lewis Hamilton just .021 of a second slower than his Finnish teammate. The Ferraris kept on track, but were still nearly a second down on the Mercedes pace.
Vandoorne had a fuel flow problem on the McLaren, the team stating they had very little power over the radio. Just as the Belgian came back into the pits, Lance Stroll was late getting onto the track.
Lewis Hamilton did another lap on the ultrasoft tyre, and went three tenths faster than Bottas at the front of the field. Red Bull’s Verstappen was also on the ultrasoft tyre, but complained over the radio that he locked up.
Later than some, Hulkenberg improved to seventh in the Renault, just behind Felipe Massa as we have seen through Friday in Melbourne. Stroll on his first lap went 18th, and slowest of those to have set a time so far – neither Palmer or Vandoorne setting a lap time.
Ricciardo went fourth in the Red Bull, with Raikkonen also coming back out for another run, in the danger zone at the bottom end of the top ten. Both Giovinazzi and Ericsson were in for Q2 at this point, with Ocon one of those who need to improve.
Raikkonen was going quickly though on the ultrasoft tyre, and improved to second fastest in the Ferrari. Palmer set his first lap of the session, although only went 19th fastest, with Magnussen following him in 18th.
Giovinazzi was on to improve, but made a mistake at the end of the lap in the battle with his teammate. Vandoorne only went 18th in the McLaren, and Ericsson only just beat his teammate in 14th. Palmer though was slowest of all in the Renault, Hulkenberg up in 5th in the other Renault.
Those who would leave in the first part of qualifying this season included Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Vandoorne, Stroll and Palmer.
The second qualifying session started with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton heading out onto the circuit, both going out on the ultrasoft tyre indicating that is the tyre they expect to start the race on tomorrow.
Dark cloud was also heading over the circuit as the cars headed out onto the circuit, the temperature falling and light fading as the time head to 5:30 local time. Bottas did a firstname.lastname@example.org, with Lewis Hamilton then going just a little slower than his teammate. The British World Champion went out on some used tyres, rather than the new tyres of his Finnish teammate.
Ferrari had also gone out on the ultrasoft, Vettel going third in the Ferrari a couple of tenths down, with Raikkonen faster than Vettel. Next it was Red Bull, Ricciardo went fifth and Verstappen in sixth, the Dutchman on a used set of tyres and seven tenths down on his teammate. Force India were the slowest so far with Perez in 7th and Oxon in 8th.
Carlos Sainz on his first run slotted in behind the Red Bull colleagues in 7th, closely matched by teammate Kvyat in 8th. The sole Williams of Felipe Massa slotted in between the Red Bull and Toro Rosso.
Fernando Alonso back in 14th, pitted after saying that when he went over a kerb he lost power, the McLaren driver three seconds off the pace and a second behind Esteban Ocon in 13th.
Vettel and Verstappen went out for another run at the end of the session, Vettel stayed fourth and lost time at the end of the lap.
Everyone up to and including Verstappen went back out onto the circuit to get into the final part of qualifying.
Ocon didn’t improve to get in the top ten and stayed 13th, with Sainz staying in 8th. Hulkenberg improved to 9th in the Renault, with Alonso in 12th. Grosjean improved to 7th, and Kvyat slotting in behind him. Massa improved to seventh, with Toro Rosso just slotting into the top 10 with Force India the team to lose out.
Those out in Q2 included Perez, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Ocon and Ericsson.
With spots of rain falling around the circuit,Q3 started with Bottas and Vettel pushing on out of the pitlane with Hamilton and Vettel followed.
It was tight between the top three during the lap, but Hamilton found something to take provisional pole by three tenths from Vettel and Bottas. Raikkonen was a second down, just before the red flags were thrown as Daniel Ricciardo found the wall at the end of the lap in turn 14.
The session restarted on the hour with eight minutes of the session remaining. Romain Grosjean was the first on the circuit after the restart in the Haas. Predictably Grosjean went fifth, six tenths behind the Ferrari.
With everyone going out, apart from Grosjean and Ricciardo, Hamilton was going even faster than before, with Bottas struggling to keep pace with his teammate. He got a better middle sector and a 1:22.4 for the Finn, only for Hamilton to go three tenths faster.
Verstappen went fifth fastest, and not ahead of Raikkonen with Kvyat a long way behind the sister team. Raikkonen went fourth fastest and eight tenths slower than Hamilton. The upset was Sebastian Vettel on the front row splitting the two Mercedes drivers. Grosjean made his way up to sixth place and three tenths faster than Felipe Massa.