At his 111th grand prix, Nico Rosberg has claimed his first career pole position, and the first pole for Mercedes since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, which came courtesy of Juan Manuel Fangio. Rosberg set a time of 1m35.121s: the quickest lap of the weekend so far by some margin.
Rosberg’s team mate, Michael Schumacher, will line up alongside him on the grid tomorrow, both having used the Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tyres to good effect. Rosberg was fastest by half a second, having made the most of the rear tyres in particular to ensure that he had the right amount of traction – one of the key areas in Shanghai – to set a dominant pole time.
Rosberg completed only one run during the final qualifying session, giving himself an extra set of soft tyres for tomorrow’s race. All three qualifying sessions were extremely competitive: the top 17 in qualifying one were covered by just 0.8 seconds, while just 0.3 seconds separated the top 10 at the end of qualifying two.
The final top 10 all started the last session on the P Zero Yellow soft tyre, with the Mercedes line-up of Rosberg and Schumacher, plus McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen completing one early run, while the six other drivers all came out later in the session. Lewis Hamilton was the only driver to complete two runs, but despite qualifying second he will start in seventh, as the result of a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
During the first qualifying session, held in dry conditions with 21 degrees centigrade ambient temperature, a higher number of competitors than usual switched to the soft tyres at the end, including McLaren’s Jenson Button – who did one lap to put a heat cycle through the yellow compound – and both Ferrari drivers. The driver to go quickest during qualifying one was Sergio Perez, one of the stars of the Malaysian Grand Prix, on the soft tyre.
The two Saubers were also the first cars to come out in the second session on the soft tyre, which was the default choice throughout the session for all the runners. The biggest surprise was the elimination of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who has started from pole at the last three Chinese Grands Prix. The German driver will start from 11th on the grid tomorrow, which means that he has the choice of which tyre he will be able to begin the race on and also some extra sets of the soft compound – as does Lotus driver Romain Grosjean, who did not set a time in qualifying three.
The final free practice session was held this morning in dry conditions, with Hamilton setting a fastest time of 1m35.940s during a qualifying simulation, using the P Zero Yellow soft tyre ahead of his team mate Button.
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi claimed his best-ever qualifying position in fourth (which will become third due to Hamilton’s penalty) while 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen will now line up fourth on the grid tomorrow: his best start since returning to Formula One this year.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “We’d like to congratulate Nico Rosberg and Mercedes on their achievements today. The way that Nico, Michael and the Mercedes used the tyres was superb. The small gaps between the drivers during the first two sessions showed the tight level of competition that we can expect tomorrow, with the difference between the two compounds still expected to be between 0.6-0.8 seconds per lap and two to three pit stops expected per car. Once more, the Sauber team did an excellent job with the tyres, and fourth-fastest time in qualifying for Kamui certainly reflects that. Tyre degradation in China is traditionally quite high: the teams were clearly trying to save tyres where they could today and tyre strategy is clearly going to be crucial. There is only a low probability of rain expected tomorrow, but the track could be a bit damp in the morning, so we might see some humid conditions at the very start of the race.”
Tyres used by the top ten qualifiers:
Rosberg – Soft
Hamilton – Soft
Schumacher – Soft
Kobayashi – Soft
Raikkonen – Soft
Button – Soft
Webber – Soft
Perez – Soft
Alonso – Soft
Grosjean – no time set
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