Mercedes will have an all Silver Arrows front row in tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix, the first time this has happened since their comeback as a constructor in 2010.
Nico Rosberg took an emotional first F1 pole position, in his 111th Grand Prix, while Michael Schumacher moves up to join him on the front row after Lewis Hamilton is demoted five places on the grid tomorrow, from second to seventh, due to a forced gearbox change penalty.
“It went really well and it’s a very special feeling,” Rosberg said. “Now obviously l am looking forward to starting first in the race!
“The track was was cooling off, the temperatures were coming down, so the rear tyres started working better. We changed setup before the last run and I did a perfect lap.”
Hamilton was delighted for Rosberg who has been a friend and colleague since childhood, the pair sat beaming in the unilateral TV studio after the session. “Congratulations to Nico,” said Hamilton. “It’s fantastic and I am proud of him.
“We grew up racing together and we dreamed of racing in F1. We were team-mates in 2000 and friends before that.”
It was a terrific qualifying session, full of drama with Sebastian Vettel eliminated in Q2, at the same time as Mark Webber was setting the fastest time of the session in the sister car. Vettel was only 3/10ths of a second off Webber, but it was enough to be eliminated. Vettel last fell out in Q2 in Hungary 2008 in his Toro Rosso days. His last failure to make it through to Q3 was Brazil 2009 when he dropped out in Q1 in the Red Bull.
Red Bull has been pulled in two directions on exhaust layouts this weekend, with Vettel preferring the older specification “inboard” exhausts and Webber liking the Melbourne/ Sepang specification with “outboard” exhausts.
The session underlined how close it is in F1 these days, with Q2 in particular very close; less than 3/10ths of a second separated the top 11 cars. These included world championship leader Fernando Alonso, who pulled out a great lap to make it into Q3 at the expense of Vettel. Under pressure Ferrari team mate Felipe Massa also did a strong lap, given the car’s limitations, to set the 12th fastest time just over 2/10ths slower than Alonso. Behind him within half a tenth were the next three cars, Paul di Resta and the two Williams drivers.
Rosberg set the pole time early in Q3 on his first lap, an astonishing half second faster than Hamilton or Schumacher. He timed it just right because – unusually – the track then got slower in the final minutes of Q3 as the temperature dropped and the humidity increased. Rosberg was out of his car and spectating when the other cars set their times at the end of the session and he saved a set of new soft tyres for the race into the bargain.
The Mercedes was the fastest car in the high speed final sector of the lap all weekend, using the DRS wing with its drag reducing front wing adjunct. This will not be available to them in the race tomorrow and with the Mercedes’ heavier tyre wear, it’s likely that Rosberg and Schumacher will struggle to stay in those positions. Hamilton is quietly confident that he has the car in race conditions to win and that he can come through from seventh on the grid, as will be his team mate Jenson Button, starting 5th.
“I’ve set my car up a bit differently so it looks after its tyres a bit better but is still quick, so hopefully that will make a difference,” said Hamilton.
The stars of qualifying, aside from Rosberg, were Kamui Kobayashi who got his best every qualifying position in 4th, with Kimi Raikkoen close behind in 5th. Neither will make it easy for the McLarens to pass, particularly as the Sauber is the fastest car through the speed trap, but judging by the long run times from practice, the McLaren should have enough performance to make it. The surprise was the disappointing performance of the Red Bull cars, with Webber only 6th on the grid and starting behind Button. Webber, like all the runners who did one lap only at the end of the session, failed to match his best Q2 time.
Webber and Vettel are only 19th and 20th through the speed trap, some 11km/h down on the Sauber.
The rest of the grid lines up in team pairings as the Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso, Caterham, Marussia and HRT all share a row with their team mates. Pastor Maldonado got the upper hand on Bruno Senna by 0.006 seconds, with the Venezuelan looking to complete a race for the first time this season.
Paul Di Resta also put in a good lap to qualify ahead of his team mate, although he will feel aggrieved to find himself in fifteenth after being just 0.2 seconds off the pace in the second part of qualifying.
The two Toro Rosso’s were split between the first two qualifying sessions as Jean Eric-Vergne joined the usual back-runners. He will start ahead of the Caterham and Marussia’s as well as the HRT who continue to show improvement and were comfortably within the 107% limit.
It’s already a game of strategy for tomorrow’s race: those who opted to do only one run in Q3, may have fund the track disappointingly slow, but they saved a set of new tyres for the race, which will be worth a lot. Also choosing the same tactic were Button, Perez and Alonso.
Last year we saw a mixture of two stops and three stops but three was faster at the end of the race. Why not see whether you can find the fastest way to do the race, now we know who has a set of new soft tyres and who doesn’t by using our RACE STRATEGY CALCULATOR
[Additional reporting: Matt Meadows]
CHINESE GRAND PRIX, Shanghai, Qualifying
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m35.121s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m35.626s + 0.505
3. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m35.691s + 0.570
4. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m35.784s + 0.663
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m35.898s + 0.777
6. Jenson Button McLaren 1m36.191s + 1.070
7. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m36.290s + 1.169
8. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m36.524s + 1.403
9. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m36.622s + 1.501
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus No time
11. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m36.031s + 0.331
12. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m36.255s + 0.555
13. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m36.283s + 0.583
14. Bruno Senna Williams 1m36.289s + 0.589
15. Paul di Resta Force India 1m36.317s + 0.617
16. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m36.745s + 1.045
17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m36.956s + 1.256
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m37.714s + 1.516
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m38.463s + 2.265
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m38.677s + 2.479
21. Timo Glock Marussia 1m39.282s + 3.084
22. Charles Pic Marussia 1m39.717s + 3.519
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m40.411s + 4.213
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m41.000s + 4.802