Nico Rosberg has waltzed to pole position for the European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan, surviving an action-packed session at the all-new Baku City Circuit that saw his teammate and chief title rival Lewis Hamilton crash out in an error-ridden session.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Rosberg either, however, with the German glancing the wall on his flying lap as well, but he still finished comfortably clear of the rest of the field around the slipper six-kilometre circuit.
Such has been Mercedes’ advantage over the three preceding practice sessions, only a disaster was going to deny them a front-row lockout. Having romped to being the fastest driver in all three practice sessions, Hamilton was the clear favourite to claim pole position.
Instead, the Englishman threw away a golden opportunity with one of the most error-ridden performances of his career. In each qualifying phase, he triggered at least one yellow flag by locking up and sliding down an escape road. He was fastest in Q1, but not before a trip up the Turn 15 escape road, and he repeated the feat in Q3 as well after a similar slide at Turn 7 in Q2.
That second error left him without enough time to swap tyres and set his flying lap on better rubber, meaning he will likely start the race on partly flat-spotted tyres.
Hamilton regrouped after his third off for one last crack at trying to grab pole position and clipped the apex wall at Turn 11, breaking his right front suspension and forcing him to park his Mercedes F1W07 with two minutes of the session to go.
The session was red-flagged while his stricken car was removed, leaving the remaining drivers with the prospect of having to rush on their out-lap in time to start one final flying lap to sort out their starting order for Sunday’s 51-lap race. Rosberg’s margin was such that he knew he couldn’t be beaten for pole, and so he sat out the session while the remaining eight runners jostled for track position.
Daniel Ricciardo was the first to cross the finish line, vaulting to third-fastest with a 1:43.966 – seconds later, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel would set an identical lap time. Neither of them was good enough to overhaul Force India’s Sergio Pérez, who qualified second-fastest in his hastily-rebuilt Force India. Having to take on a new gearbox as a result of his crash in FP3 means, however, that the Mexican will be demoted five grid places.
Kimi Räikkönen qualified fifth-fastest and will start fourth thanks to Pérez’s penalty, but it was an unimpressive showing from the Finn who was one of many drivers to slide off-track in the slippery conditions.
He qualified ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa and an impressive Daniil Kvyat, who hauled his Toro Rosso – equipped with last year’s Ferrari engine, no less – into Q3 and the seventh-fastest time.
Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen were eighth- and ninth-fastest in the second Williams and Red Bull Racing entries respectively, although both drivers might face a hearing with the Stewards after each appeared to block the other in Q3.
Romain Grosjean had one of his better qualifying performances of late with the eleventh-fastest time in his Haas Ferrari, recovering from apparent braking issues in Q1.
The biggest surprise elimination was the second Force India of Nico Hülkenberg, who suffered a spin on his first flying lap and then erroneously backed off at the end of the session, assuming he had neither the time nor fuel load to complete another timed lap. It was a costly error by the driver and team given the performance of his teammate.
The seventh and eighth rows of the grid were claimed by Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, the second Haas of Esteban Gutiérrez and Sauber’s Felipe Nasr.
Manor Racing duo Rio Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein put on one of the team’s strongest showings of the season to-date, with the Indonesian qualifying a highly impressive 17th ahead of his more-fancied teammate.
By contrast, qualifying was a disaster for Jenson Button and the two Renaults. Button was knocked out in Q1 and will start 19th after each of his timed laps was impacted by inconsistent brakes and traffic, while the Renaults of Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer will start from the back row of the grid.
|2016 FORMULA 1 EUROPEAN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING RESULTS|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Result||Gap|
|1.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 W07 Hybrid||1:42.758|
|2.||Sergio Pérez^||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM09||1:43.515||+ 0.757|
|3.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB12||1:43.966||+ 1.208|
|4.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H||1:43.966||+ 1.208|
|5.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H||1:44.269||+ 1.511|
|6.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW38||1:44.483||+ 1.725|
|7.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR11||1:44.717||+ 1.959|
|8.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW38||1:45.246||+ 2.488|
|9.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB12||1:45.570||+ 2.812|
|10.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 W07 Hybrid||2:01.954||+ 19.196|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Result||Gap**|
|11.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Ferrari VF-16||1:44.755||+ 2.235|
|12.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM09||1:44.824||+ 2.304|
|13.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR11||1:45.000||+ 2.480|
|14.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda MP4-31||1:45.270||+ 2.750|
|15.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Haas F1 Ferrari VF-16||1:45.349||+ 2.829|
|16.||Felipe Nasr||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C35||1:46.048||+ 3.528|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Result||Gap*|
|17.||Rio Haryanto||Manor Racing Mercedes MRT5||1:45.665||+ 1.980|
|18.||Pascal Wehrlein||Manor Racing Mercedes MRT5||1:45.750||+ 2.065|
|19.||Jenson Button||McLaren-Honda MP4-31||1:45.804||+ 2.119|
|20.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C35||1:46.231||+ 2.546|
|21.||Kevin Magnussen||Renault Sport F1 Team RS16||1:46.348||+ 2.663|
|22.||Jolyon Palmer||Renault Sport F1 Team RS16||1:46.394||+ 2.709|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:43.685 posted by Lewis Hamilton
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:42.520 posted by Nico Rosberg
Sergio Pérez will serve a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team