Nico Rosberg tops qualifying at the Chinese Grand Prix by five tenths of a second.
A change back to the 2015 qualifying format saw no change in the top spot of qualifying as Mercedes took P1, this time through Nico Rosberg. Lewis Hamilton may never have been able to start from pole, but an ERS failure meant he could not participate in qualifying. While Red Bull shocked Ferrari to start on the front row of the grid.
The Chinese Grand Prix weekend started strong for Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen with the duo sharing honours across Friday practice. But when the rain fell on Saturday morning, and Mercedes kept their cars in the garage, it was Sebastian Vettel snatching the advantage. Leaving the man who took pole in 2013, 14 and 15 without a top spot, and a five-place grid penalty awaiting Hamilton for a gearbox change.
But when the qualifying matters boiled down, it was Nico Rosberg who stormed his pole lap to top the session by five tenths of a second to Daniel Ricciardo. After the Red Bull driver linked up a great flyer to edge Kimi by just six hundredths of a second.
When the first stage of the new version of the old qualifying format began it was Lewis Hamilton leading the field away from the pits as he ventured out onto the mostly dry circuit with the intermediate tyres.
Some, particularly the Manor duo of Haryanto and Wehrlein, did however opt to go straight out onto the supersoft tyres. Although the life taken from those tyres was soon wasted as the red flags began to be waved after just three minutes.
The German rookie, Pascal Wehrlein, who has never driven the physical Shanghai International Circuit before floored the throttle of his Manor as he exited the final corner and opened the DRS. But as he began his timed lap, he found one of the only patches of water remaining and hit a small bump which caused him to lose the rear. Sliding straight towards the barrier, ending his session with damage to the rear wheel.
The session was eventually restarted after a 20 minute break after the marshals swept away the debris. The stoppage would have been a lot shorter had the marshals not then set about sweeping away the puddle which played a part in Wehrlein’s incident.
With their first runs, it was Esteban Gutierrez opening the times with a 1:40.262. Although his time was swamped by the field as they trickled onto the board.
Lewis Hamilton, though, was still in the garage as the team investigated a power unit problem. Even when he came back out, the issue with his energy recovery system was still there and he returned to the pits without setting a time. Meaning he was out of qualifying in Q1, and will start the race from the back of the grid. The last time Lewis was out of qualifying so early on was all the way back in Hungary, in 2014, when a fuel leak caused his car to catch fire.
With Lewis not able to make it through to Q2, the remaining drivers who tend to fall early had a chance of making it further than they would have expected.
The battle for Q2 boiled down to Sauber vs. Renault at the chequered flag. Something which was missing under the elimination format but today resulted in a great last lap scrap where Nasr was the first to cross the line.
The Brazilian’s lap clawed his Sauber out of the drop zone as the flag began to wave, and when Palmer crossed the line there was one less driver who could eliminate Felipe.
Magnussen too was unable to eliminate Nasr as he crossed the line for P16. A Q2 place. But Sauber made it two in Q2 when Marcus Ericsson stormed up to P13 – eliminating Magnussen.
For the second stage of qualifying, Sauber expressed their position with Nasr straight out on a set of used supersoft tyres. Nico Rosberg though followed him out with a set of new soft tyres – potentially looking towards the race, with the chance to start on the stronger race tyres.
When they crossed the line to post their times, Nasr could only set a lap six seconds off the pace Rosberg laid down. Even the Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg could not move within a second of Rosberg despite running on fresh supersofts. A strategy Ferrari were forced to follow.
But when the Prancing Horses crossed the line to go P1 and P2 in Raikkonen’s favour, the gap back to Rosberg was just one tenth of a second. A huge advantage held by Mercedes – who now sat two seconds from the drop zone and five tenths from fourth place.
The extremely impressive pace shown by Mercedes with Rosberg on the soft tyres was enough to see him end Q2 in third place and will start the race on those tyres. While Raikkonen and Vettel will start on the tyres which are expected not to last long at all.
For the rest of the field looking to get into Q3, their battle was brought to an end one minute from time when the second red flag of the session waved with Hulkenberg parked on the side of the track. His front left tyre had become loose with the wheel not fully tightened, a big mistake by Force India.
Without the chance to set another time, Fernando Alonso showed his frustrations over the radio with the McLaren driver eliminated in twelfth place. Massa, Button and Grosjean joined the Spaniard and the Sauber’s out in Q2, with Massa and Button feeling as if Q3 was possible as well.
When the top-10 shoot-out kicked off, Sergio Perez strolled out of the pit lane in the remaining Force India. The remaining Mercedes also joined in on the action with Rosberg this time straight out with new supersoft tyres. Although Nico’s time was just one tenth better than what he was capable of in Q2 on the softs.
As Raikkonen attacked the end of his, Ricciardo and Kvyat edged in behind Rosberg with both Red Bull drivers hampering their laps. Ricciardo hampering his by running on a used set of supersofts and Kvyat running wide at the final corner – over the wet astro turf.
Sergio Perez also suffered a moment at the end of his lap when he crossed the line and hit the same bump as Wehrlein. The Force India driver though controlled the tank slapper as spray flicked over the car.
But for Kimi, the Finn running the Ferrari early in Q3 saw his time flash above Nico by one tenth of a second. With provisional pole sitting with Ferrari, the situation could have been worse for Rosberg had Vettel not been watching on from the pits after running once more than his team-mate earlier on in qualifying.
Vettel did though run at the end of the session for his one shot flying pole hunting lap – splitting the Mercedes of Rosberg and the Ferrari of Raikkonen on track.
Sector one was not the best for Nico as he was unable to better Raikkonen. But come sector two, he was one tenth up on the Ferrari and crossed the line to find another five tenths of a second. The difference in the final sector was the difference overall with Rosberg claiming his 23rd career pole.
Rosberg now holds a record in qualifying only bettered by 10 other Formula One drivers. One of which is not Fernando Alonso, with the two-time F1 World Champion sitting on 22.
Vettel could not challenge Rosberg for pole after his lap could only see him reside three tenths back of Raikkonen. Seb’s lap had not been strong from the off but when he went deep at the hairpin his hopes were truly over.
As for Raikkonen, the Finn could not improve on his first lap and had to settle for third on the grid after Daniel Ricciardo came from out of nowhere to take second.
A flying lap by the Red Bull left just six hundredths of a second separating Ricciardo from Raikkonen. While Kvyat will start two rows back in sixth.
*Nico Hulkenberg qualified in 10th position but as a result of his tyre detaching at the end of Q2, the German driver received a three-place grid penalty. Meaning the Force India will start behind Massa, Alonso and Button.
|1||Nico Rosberg||Q3: 1:35.402|
|10||Nico Hulkenberg||No time set|
|11||Felipe Massa||Q2: 1:37.347|
|17||Kevin Magnussen||Q1: 1:38.673|
|21||Pascal Wehrlein||No time set|
|22||Lewis Hamilton||No time set + pen|