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Rosberg gets feelgood first F1 pole as Kobayashi and Raikkonen shine
Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Apr 2012   |  8:59 am GMT  |  205 comments

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

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

Sure he’s got an even better feelsgood now!

Grats Rosberg… his teammate’s misfortune (again) should not take away from what was a dominant win.

Merc has become a title contender now, although it’s also possible the conditions were just right for Merc’s tyre operating window. We’ll see in scorching Bahrain in a week.


I always felt for this race that Mercedes would be quick over one lap, but I feel that McLaren will be quicker over a race distance, compared to Mercedes. In saying this, I feel that Mercedes will be much better in the race here than in previous races.


Vettel’s now in that zone where you really prove your a champion. Easy to win when you have the best the car and qualify first but for me it is when the car is maybe the 2nd or 3rd fastest that you really prove your worth. Does one throw the toys out the pram? Moan down the radio about how bad the car is? Or simply get on with the job, drag the car into positions and places it has no right to be in?

Some drivers like Alonso driving his Ferrari, Schumacher driving the Benetton and Senna in 93’s Mclaren show it can be done. Others like Jasque Villeneuve won in a Williams in 96, 97 then struggled in average cars. Will always remember Hakkinen in the European GP in 97. With tricky changeable conditions where it was wet one side of the track but dry in the other he couldn’t cope and spent a good spell of the race cruising round. Then something like 10 laps to go realises that the car in front in 6th is a Minardi and bangs in fastest lap after fastest lap to catch it. Was like if he drove like that earlier might have scored some big points.


James, which side does pole start from?


Outside on racing line.


Thanks. It’s going to be a fascinating first few corners with Schumi keen to undercut Nico.


The racing line actually goes right in between the first 2 grid spots apparently, so neither get an advantage.

Is this correct?


Hi James – following the qualifying results, I’ve been trying to fiddle around with your strategy calculator… however, I may be being silly, but I can’t work out how the beginning tyres (new/old) are factored into the equation? (ie. top 10 mostly starting on ‘used’ versus the others)

What have I missed? 🙂


It assumes you start on used softs. So you select which tyre you want to take at 1st, 2nd etc stops


Watch the the 40 year old tomorrow…. I think he manages his tyres better than Rosberg. Well done to Nico he deserves a good result! My money is on Schumacher tomorrow.


Hamilton’s penalty puts both Hamilton and Button the clean side (though the racing line hits both sides in a diagonal). Button in front of him, Alonso behind. The Merc’s are fast starters, and so is Alonso. Grosjean’s also there in P10, hopefully he keeps his nose clean and stays out of trouble.

Over/under for when the first car laps Karthikeyan? I’ll say lap 16.

Hope it’s a great race, like 2011!


The penalty for changing a gear box is absurd.Penalise the car manufacturer ,in this case McLaren ,but not the driver.For instance take five points from them on their chase of the title. Lewis does not deserve to be back in 7th position.To me he is the DRIVER ,he is the one who sets the pace ,I hope he can regain positions and get a well deserved win in China.

JackFlash (Aust)

Both the constructor and the driver share responsibility for the operability of the car gearbox. The constructor in engineering and supply, the driver in treating it correctly in use (downshift demands etc).

The Penalty of five grid places penalises both the potential position to earn WDC (driver) and WCC (constructor) points in the Race. That seems fair to me, that they share Penalty. JF


It really saddens me to see superficial comments on your blog James. I really think your blog is of the highest quality, but (some, like 10% of) the comments are sub-standard. Especially those blankly targeting drivers like Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton. These are the top 5 if not top 3 drivers in the world right now and each separated by minuscule 10th’s of a second in vastly different machines. So, give some respect guys. Commend on the person winning the pole, race, championship… but based on a few average (relatively) outings don’t deride their achievements. Its not Vettel’s fault that EBD was in place in 2011 nor is it Alonso’s fault that this year Ferrari is so off pace.

After all, its a sport and a lot depends on how a driver feels himself with the car, track, tires on Saturday and Sunday.

Enjoy the race!


Well said.


I agree and I’m getting tired of that 10% too. Time for a crackdown by Mod..


A few years ago, when I started following this blog, the comments you mention (10%) were non existing.

I always found it a place where die hard F1 fans gathered and shared their in depth opinion. At the moment, more and more comments are moving to the ‘my favorite driver is the best’ direction (which are useless comments to me and don’t bring any added value).


Yes, like I said, they are going to be cut out now.




Simply a case of conditions conspiring to slow other cars, and help Mercedes. All about getting the tyres as close as possible to their optimum temperature. We know the Mercs work their tyres more which made Nico’s lap a possibility. Personally I think Nico has been very underated mainly because he did not have a decent car. That said I think in the race the Mercs will fall back as DRS will no longer help them, and as the tyre degradation bites them hard, and I expect the McLarens to come through the pack particularly. Still a very good lap from Nico though, and hope both Merc drivers can get some useful points


I find it a little ridiculous people question the ability of a double world champion. One bad qualifying result and people jump on it like a dog in heat. Apparently it was a little hard for people to swallow vettel BEATING their favorite drivers last year the way he did. And the whole thing about his car just being better isn’t even a good argument. Somehow I feel if others favorite drivers had his past season it would just be a testament to their driver ability and not the car at all.


I don’t think people are necessarily questioning Vettel’s ability…but as great as it is to have two WDCs, it’s unrealistic to brush aside the fact that he had a great car which suited him + a team who is behind him.


Which world Champion hasn’t had those 2 things?


All this talk of Vettel being an “average driver” and showing his “true worth” is ridiculous. No he is not an average driver but yes he is finding it difficult this year. Having been racing at the front for three straight years battling well behind the leading pack has undoubtedly come as a shock to him. Secondly though his poor quali result today you can almost certainly put down to his different car setup to Webber but unfortunately for Vettel it has turned out to be the wrong setup. Yes his true worth will be shown how he copes in a car that doesn’t win races, something Schumacher and Alonso have displayed with immense skill. I’m confident he’ll show that ability similar to what Schumacher and Alonso have done in the past (and in Alonso’s case the present!).


This is so brilliantly hard to call, because there are at least four cars which can win. I’m afraid I really cannot see the Mercedes replicating that pace over a race distance, which leaves it between the McLarens, Kobayashi and Raikkonen. As I’ve said before, the prospect of Hamilton vs Kobayashi vs Raikkonen is tantalising.

That’s assuming it’s a dry race. I think I heard it should be, but do you have any updates on that James?

Edouard Valentine

Hi James,

Did Button mention how hard it was to get front grip due to the lowering track temps? I’ve been thinking about how the aerodynamic profile of this season’s Pirellis works with the 12 different chassis designs. Would their profile suit some designs better than others? If so which team gets the best advantage do you think?

Grazie Mille



What a fantastic qualifying session!

Especially what a perfect lap from Rosberg. The confidence to step out of the car with minutes to go after doing one flying lap was amazing to watch.

Also very pleased for Kobayashi – having been overshadowed recently. What a way to respond by starting 3rd tomorrow and underlines just how good a car Sauber have.


Wow! Conrats to Nico. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. 1/2 a second is remarkable.

As a RBR fan I’d love to say “look out for Seb” but I think he’s down in the turn 1, turn 2, lap 1 crash zone. It will be interesting to see what tyres he starts on. Webber did well here last year? from about 18th or so on the grid. I would expect Seb to go at least that well if he can survive the first lap or 2. Lewis looked good in quali and interviewed beautifully. Webber was a bit of a surprise. After Q2 I had high hopes of a front row for him. Such is life. He’s outqualified Seb 3-0 now. Thats gotta make him feel good. I’m guessing that was Koba’s best quali to date? Well done to him and the team. Jenson, as always is there or thereabouts and should do well. Good to see Schumi outqualify Kimi. Now he’s just gotta out race him 😉

I’m tipping Jenson, Kimi & Webber.


I agree with all of you people, what a nice grid. Nevertheless, I hope we won’t witness a bad start, since there would be to much ego loaded at turn 1 and very tight turn 2 from cars positioned in grid places No 2,4,5,7 and 9. If we consider Alonso is doing great starts, Webber bad starts, Hamilton average, Perez would be swallowed and thus Alonso would eventually turn side by side with Hamilton, imagine what the cars in front of them might be up to at the same time. I ‘m looking forward though for a clean start, should that happen the race would be very interesting and unpredictable too, considering the close times from Q2 and odd, alien merc times in Q3. On the development front, it seems Ferrari is doing it better than the others, till now that is.


I think Rosberg is in for a good shout for the win. If my memory serves me correct wasnt he winning the race for a while last year, before having to do some major fuel saving?


Does anyone know if Hammy saved at set of Option Tyres for the race, Thanks?

Tornillo Amarillo

Rosberg can be in the podium because he is very focused. Also Schumi.

And Kobashashi because the car is working really good.

I think that Kimi can surprise and win, he is the one there.

Button of course has all to be in the podium, probably 2nd.

In qualy Hamilton did 2nd fastest time and he is upbeat, so he can be 3rd in the race realistically.

So, according with my predictions, at the end of this race the podium will be more crowded than usual.


I think the intersting thing is Red Bull running two different spec cars, Webber on the newer ( could I make that the newer Newey car!!) regarding pods/exhausts and Vettel on the older version of pods/exhausts.

Obviously Red Bull are diluting their efforts on each car now and not sure which way to go although Newey has got a good idea ie the new way and Vettel does not like it ironically.

I wonder if Mark Webber said he preferred the old version would Red Bull have pandered to him or told him Seb makes it work, get on with it. Bit of a reversal in the team, remember the front wing fiasco.

Is this a sign of Vettel feeling the pressure and Webber starting to eclipse his team mate this season.



If Sauber’s car performs like it does in Malaysia (on a cool track). I would put some money on Kobayashi for win/ podium, the odds are very good indeed.


FANTASTIC !! — This is what we needed to de-focus Bahrain 😉

James – Your simulator is brilliant. I have thrashed you, even staying clear of you in pitstops. New options at lap14, new primes at lap27, and new primes again at lap41. I don’t think I have to pass you ontrack anywhere.

Hope you can build some other factors into the simulator – like a rain period? Really – thanks for that – so much fun!

Roll on the real race – it’s going to be a cracker!!! Please – no 1st corner pile-up….


James is Kamui getting any attention from the top teams yet? He deserves a Lotus at least come on!..


Hi James,

Vettel’s performance today brings to mind an interview I saw with Webber earlier this season where he said last years car (with EBD’s) was the odd year out and this year we are back to ‘normal’. Do you think last years dominance by Vettel was purely because he best adapted to what as a very different feel to the cars for one year only and the Red Bull wasn’t as clear as the field as he made it seem?

Loving this season though, all so close can only make for much more interesting races and results!



I think Mark also struggled to come to grips with the new tires last year, but was starting to figure them out towards the end of the season.


I think he had a more dominant car in 2010 but wasn’t as mature as last year. But also yes he had a way of driving the EBD car that Webber couldn’t match.


Surely “webber is faster than you” will appear in Vettels ear this season !


Well driving the EBD car was essentially a PlayStation car to Vettel in 2011.

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