MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The three rookie drivers who took part in qualifying for the Formula One season-opening Australian Grand Prix all enjoyed successful debuts on Saturday, safely booking spots in the middle of the pack at Albert Park.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz, whose father and namesake was a double world rally champion in the 1990s, was the pick of the trio, qualifying eighth in his Toro Rosso for Sunday’s race.
His 17-year-old Dutch team mate Max Verstappen, who will become the youngest driver to start a Formula One race, was 12th, while Brazil’s Felipe Nasr was sandwiched between the pair in 11th after a roller-coaster day with his Sauber team.
Nasr, 22, was only confirmed as a starter after Giedo van der Garde dropped his legal action against Sauber, allowing the team to race this weekend.
There were no such concerns for Toro Rosso, whose rookies both qualified ahead of Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat and the two McLarens.
“I feel very comfortable in the car, I’m really enjoying myself a lot. It’s difficult to know what to expect tomorrow, as it will be my first race, but I’m looking forward to it,” said Sainz, whose father was watching trackside.
“It will surely be a bit of an adventure but this is what I’ve been preparing myself for the whole winter and I feel ready.”
Verstappen, who has hogged the team spotlight in the build-up to the race, was fourth fastest after the first stage of qualifying but slipped back to 12th after the second phase following a small mistake.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good lap because the tires were not ready. During the second push-lap, I made a mistake out of turn four, where I went a bit too wide and lost the rear, losing quite a lot of time,” he said.
“It’s a shame but I can’t change any of this now. I look forward to tomorrow, my first ever Formula one race. The car is working well and hopefully we will be able to score some points as we have a good race pace.”
Toro Rosso technical director James Key said he was impressed by his drivers.
“It was a new experience for them in a very tightly-packed environment here and slightly trickier conditions out on track than what we’ve had all weekend,” Key said.
“So it was a challenge for them but they managed to keep it together, they built-up extremely well with each new set of tires and they adapted to the program extremely well.”
Two other drivers embarking on their first full seasons in Formula One were not as successful, however, when Briton Will Stevens and Spaniard Roberto Merhi were excluded from the race when their Manor Marussia team were unable to get either car on the track for qualifying.
Editing by John O'Brien