Finally! On his 111th attempt, Nico Rosberg has claimed his maiden Formula 1 pole position at the Chinese Grand Prix, which also gave the Mercedes its first pole position in 56 years.
The German drove a storming lap in Q3 to claim top spot ahead of Lewis Hamilton, whose five-place grid penalty (for a gearbox change) promotes Michael Schumacher into an all-Mercedes front row.
Rosberg is the sport’s 95th different pole-sitter in modern-era Formula 1, but he is the fourth driver to take more than 100 Grands Prix to achieve the feat: only Thierry Boutsen (115), Jarno Trulli (119) and Mark Webber (131) took longer to do so. Trulli and Webber also went on to claim their maiden Formula 1 wins in those races, respectively; could Rosberg do the same?
In all honesty and given the Mercedes W03’s reputation for chewing through its rear tyres, that seems unlikely. However, the make of the grid’s second row – being Kamui Kobayashi and Kimi Räikkönen – might give you an indication of how closely fought this qualifying session was, even more so when the likes of Sebastian Vettel fail to make the top-ten shootout at all…
The Silver Arrows’ cause was helped by a considerable drop in track temperature, bought about by some heavy cloud cover and pollution keeping the track temperatures in a range better suited to cars that can lean on their tyres a little more – i.e. perfect conditions for Mercedes.
The first phase of qualifying delivered few surprises. Eliminated at the first hurdle were the sextet of cars from Caterham, Marussia and HRT, who will respectively occupy the final three rows of the grid.
Also eliminated with them was Toro Rosso rookie Jean-Éric Vergne, who missed the Q2 cut for the second race running. While he finished some eight-tenths of a second slower than team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, the Frenchman ruined his final flying lap when he put a couple of wheels in the dirt.
Had Vergne delivered a cleaner lap, then a host of drivers could have been candidates for an early bath in qualifying, with just one second covering the other seventeen runners who made it into Q2.
Sergio Pérez wound up quickest in this phase of qualifying, with his time of 1:36.198 being posted on Pirelli’s softer tyres. Both Ferrari drivers adopted similar strategies in a bid to avoid an early elimination.
The biggest drama of Q2 was Vettel’s shock elimination, the first time since the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix that it has happened. Despite running with the older-spec exhaust configuration, it was not enough for the German to make the final qualifying cut, with last-gasp efforts from the Sauber drivers ensuring he would be starting midfield.
Felipe Massa looked like he could actually make the Q3 cut, but he too was bumped out of tenth place and will start from twelfth place for tomorrow’s race. Vettel and Massa will start ahead of an all-Williams seventh row, with Pastor Maldonado edging out Bruno Senna by six-thousandths of a second.
The Force India drivers continued the Noah’s Ark theme by claiming the eighth row of the grid after a disappointing showing in qualifying, meaning that seven of the twelve rows of the grid will be shared by team-mates.
Q3 saw Rosberg deliver an inch-perfect, flat-out lap around the five-kilometre Shanghai circuit, a perfect two-fingered salute to the critics who’d said he couldn’t hack it after his error-ridden Q3 performances at the last two Grands Prix. He clocked a rapid 1:35.121, which was so quick that he didn’t even both getting back in the car to attempt another hot-lap.
By the time the remaining eight cars (Romain Grosjean opted not to set a time) had completed their timed runs, Rosberg was already in the FIA scrutineering bay, having been weighed and waiting to accept the congratulations of its peers. It was arrogance on his part, his lap was just that good.
Lewis Hamilton tried everything to claim a ‘moral’ pole position, but his second-fastest effort was the best result in a damage limitation exercise that will see him start from seventh place. The 2008 champion has shown excellent pace all weekend and could well be a contender for victory tomorrow, even if he’s never claimed a Grand Prix victory starting lower than fourth.
A bemused Schumacher took third but will share the front row with his younger team-mate, marking the best starting position the 43-year-old has enjoyed since his comeback to the sport.
Kobayashi starts from a career-best third, and given Sauber’s incredible start to the season, a podium finish is not out of the question for the Japanese driver.
And don’t discount Räikkönen in fourth. The Finn’s Lotus F1 team has worked miracles to sort out the handling of his E20 challenger, and he could be a dark horse tomorrow.
The third row of the grid will be shared by Jenson Button and Mark Webber; the former being widely tipped as today’s pole-sitter but seemingly unable to generate enough tyre temperature in Q3 to make it happen.
2012 Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix – Qualifying Results:
|1.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1||1:36.875||1:35.725||1:35.121|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton*||McLaren Mercedes||1:36.763||1:35.902||1:35.626|
|3.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1||1:36.797||1:35.794||1:35.691|
|4.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari||1:36.863||1:35.853||1:35.784|
|5.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault||1:36.850||1:35.921||1:35.896|
|6.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes||1:36.746||1:35.942||1:36.191|
|7.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault||1:36.682||1:35.700||1:36.290|
|8.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari||1:36.198||1:35.831||1:36.524|
|9.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari||1:36.292||1:35.982||1:36.622|
|10.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault||1:36.343||1:35.903||no time|
|11.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault||1:36.911||1:36.031|
|12.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari||1:36.556||1:36.255|
|13.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault||1:36.528||1:36.283|
|14.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault||1:36.674||1:36.289|
|15.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes||1:36.639||1:36.317|
|16.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes||1:36.921||1:36.745|
|17.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari||1:36.933||1:36.956|
|18.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari||1:37.714|
|19.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault||1:38.433|
|20.||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham Renault||1:38.677|
|21.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth||1:39.282|
|22.||Charles Pic||Marussia Racing Cosworth||1:39.717|
|23.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth||1:40.411|
|24.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth||1:41.000|
* Will incur five-place grid penalty