After its brief sojourn across the Atlantic, Formula 1 is back in Europe for its inaugural Grand Prix on the streets of Baku. Qualifying was an intense and error-ridden affair, proving just how tough this track is to master.
Qualifying’s ultimate winner was Nico Rosberg. Without the threat of teammate Lewis Hamilton (see below), the championship leader cruised to an untroubled pole position, comfortably out-pacing one of the session’s other heroes, Force India’s Sergio Pérez.
Rosberg will share the front row of the grid with Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, who benefited from the grid penalty Pérez will serve. Ricciardo delivered an outstanding performance, posting an identical Q3 time to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and he will start ahead of the German by dint of setting the lap time first. The Australian also maintained his unbeaten qualifying record against his teammates this season thanks to Max Verstappen qualifying ninth-fastest.
Ricciardo’s former teammate Daniil Kvyat drove well in his Toro Rosso – equipped with last year’s Ferrari engine – by outqualifying teammate Carlos Sainz and comfortably easing into Q3.
Praise should also be directed to Manor Racing, which had easily its most competitive showing of the season to-date. Its two Mercedes-powered cars narrowly missed out on making it to Q2, with Rio Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein qualifying P17 and P18 respectively, ahead of Jenson Button’s McLaren, Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber and the two Renaults.
The headline loser of the session is an easy pick: Lewis Hamilton. After dominating all three practice sessions, Hamilton threw away his advantage with an mistake-ridden performance in qualifying. The three-time World Champion took several trips up different run-off areas before finally ending his Q3 run by hitting the wall.
Both Force India drivers squandered the outstanding pace of their VJM09s with major errors on Saturday. Sergio Pérez threw away what ultimately should have been a front-row start thanks to his heavy crash in FP3, with the rapid repairwork necessitating a gearbox change and a resulting five-place grid drop.
Pérez’s teammate Nico Hülkenberg (pictured top) failed to make it into Q3 at all after getting caught out by a sudden gust of wind and spinning his car. There were claims that a radio miscommunication between the German and his engineer prevented him from trying for another flying lap, but it was subsequently proven to be a miscalculation by the folks on the pit wall.
Image via Sahara Force India F1 Team