Nico Rosberg made it a hat-trick of pole positions for Mercedes GP as he produced two laps fast enough to take the top spot for the Spanish Grand Prix, ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
After concentrating on longer fuel-laden runs in Free Practice, Mercedes went in to qualifying somewhat unknown as attentions were focused on Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus. But – as with at China and Bahrain – the one-lap specialist Mercedes was able to eclipse its competitors. Rosberg clinched the third pole position of his career by over 2/10ths of a second, with Vettel a further tenth behind.
Their pace came predominantly in the slow, technical, final sector where the pair were around 3/10ths faster than those behind. And after heading the field in both Q1 and Q2 with Hamilton they were able to clinch their first front-row lock out since their return to Formula One and put themselves in with a chance of victory tomorrow.
In the twenty-two years that the Catalunya circuit has hosted the Spanish GP, only once has the winner come from beyond the front-row. This will give some confidence to the Silver Arrows – but we can still expect to see the fight for victory take place between the Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus trio.
Rosberg showed particular confidence getting through into Q3 using a set of used tyres, while Hamilton was forced to use a new set, which meant he had one set less of mediums for the final runs.
Red Bull went for a strategic plan in qualifying, saving its new sets of the hard tyre for the race tomorrow, indicating that they will do three stints on hard tyre after the opening stint on the used medium tyres they used for qualifying. Webber had the edge on Vettel in morning practice but the pace eluded him on his final run and he ended up 8th.
Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen fulfilled his objective by getting on the second row of the grid. With Mercedes in this kind of form that was the best he could manage, but the Lotus had the standout long runs on Friday and Raikkonen will fancy his chances of winning tomorrow, by running longer stints than the Mercedes or Vettel. Starting on the dirty side of the grid, however, he will have one eye on Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso who has made sensational starts here in the past and will be looking for another tomorrow from fifth.
As Mercedes took to the top from the outset of qualifying, Ferrari or Lotus never seemed capable of challenging for the front-row but instead concentrated on giving themselves the best opportunity ahead of tomorrow.
Alonso is to be joined on the third row by Felipe Massa, should he not be penalised for what seemed to be a block on Mark Webber, which the stewards decided should attract a three pace grid penalty, dropping him to 9th. Massa clearly impeded Webber while not on a hot lap. Massa could not replicate his pace from the final Free Practice session and ended the day half a second away from the ultimate pace. Also penalised was Esteban Gutierrez, who drops three places to 19th.
Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber were beaten by their respective team mates and will begin the race on the fourth row. Webber was left frustrated by Massa’s actions in Q2 and may see himself gain a position should the FIA deem the Brazilian’s actions unnecessary.
Completing the top ten are strong performances by Sergio Perez and Paul Di Resta. Perez was able to make it in to the final shoot out as the sole McLaren and therefore beat Jenson Button in qualifying for the first time this year.
After their spat in Bahrain, it was telling that Perez got the upper hand in the underperforming McLaren. Button was well beaten in Q2, as he accepted.
Di Resta got the better of team mate Adrian Sutil in their on-going team battle, the German only managing thirteenth.
Following last year’s victory, the Williams team’s fall from grace was stark. Like McLaren a raft of updates seemed not to have helped them as both cars exited qualifying at the earliest stage, a humiliation for a team like Williams. They have dropped in to the claws of Caterham and Marussia this season, and need points as soon as possible to avoid being mentioned in the same breath.
Of those teams, Giedo van der Garde was the pacesetter using an impressive late lap to move his Caterham above the Marussia pairing and team mate Charles Pic. Max Chiton will be pleased to have ended up only 2/10ths of a second behind team mate Jules Bianchi.
SPANISH GRAND PRIX, Barcelona, Qualifying
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m20.718s
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m20.972s + 0.254s
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m21.054s + 0.336s
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m21.177s + 0.459s
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m21.218s + 0.500s
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m21.219s + 0.501s
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m21.308s + 0.590s
8. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m21.570s + 0.852s
9. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m22.069s + 1.351s
10. Paul di Resta Force India 1m22.233s + 1.515s
11. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m22.127s + 1.126s
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m22.166s + 1.165s
13. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m22.346s + 1.345s
14. Jenson Button McLaren 1m23.166s + 2.165s
15. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m22.389s + 1.388s
16. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m22.793s + 1.792s
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m23.260s + 1.532s
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m23.318s + 1.590s
19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m24.661s + 2.933s
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m24.713s + 2.985s
21. Max Chilton Marussia 1m24.996s + 3.268s
22. Charles Pic Caterham 1m25.070s + 3.342s