Shanghai Qualifying: Rosberg takes his maiden pole as Mercedes dominate
14 April, 2012
Apr.14 (PVM) It has taken Nico Rosberg 111 race weekends to finally score his first F1 career pole position, and when he did it the Mercedes driver delivered one of the finest qualifying laps in recent memory – a faultless attack of the tricky Shanghai International Circuit ensures that Mercedes start from top slot on the grid for the first time since 1955.
Rosberg set his best time of 1 minute 35,121 seconds with his first run in Q3, it was of such quality that the German didn’t bother to do another lap and parked it while his rivals chased. When the chequered flag dropped to end the session, Rosberg was half a second quicker than anyone else – an age in modern F1.
Rosberg was clearly delighted with the achievement, “It’s fantastic. It went really well, a special feeling. I’m now looking forward to starting first tomorrow. The track was cooling off. The temperatures started coming down slightly so the rear tyres started to work better. I changed the set-up of the car slightly before the last lap. I just got the perfect run. It worked out really well.”
Although Lewis Hamilton ended second quickest on the timing screens, his five place grid penalty (for changing a gearbox) means he will start from seventh, thus Michael Schumacher will be bumped up to second on the grid.
The result makes it an all Silver Arrows front row for the first time since the fifties, the first pole for Mercedes with their own team since Argentine legend Juan Manuel Fangio took top spot at the 1955 Italian Grand Prix. Mercedes left the sport that same year and returned under their own name in 2010 – a historic day in China for the team from Stuttgart.
Hamilton was pleased for Rosberg, (the two were rivals throughout their junior karting years) and said afterwards, “A great job for Nico. There’s quite a big gap between us. We grew up together and raced together. It’s still it’s a good feeling, we’re in a good position. We made some good set-up changes. It’s going to be tough, but I’m going to push as hard as I can.”
Schumacher was quick to congratulate his teammate as the drivers did their mandatory weigh-in, “That was a phenomenal lap time for Nico. He’s known as a good qualifier and there’s no reason for me to be unhappy – in fact the opposite. It’s going to be the first time the Mercedes silver arrow have been on the front row and it’s happening in China. I feel sorry for Lewis but it’s good for us. There’s certainly a question mark over whether we can keep our positions from qualifying but we’ll try our best.”
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn commented, “It’s very good, a fantastic achievement. At the back of our mind, we know we’ve got to put race the race together on Sunday. It was an exceptional lap from Nico. He’s not had a great first couple of races. We saw today what he can do. His middle sector was incredible. Michael’s lap was very good. We backed off when we realised his place was safe [for second] because of Lewis’ penalty. We wanted to save a set of tyres.”
With Mercedes powered cars dominating the top three spots on the qualifying sheets almost as expected, it was the Ferrari powered Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi that provided the biggest surprise as the Japanese driver set the fourth best time and will head up row three on the grid thanks to Hamilton’s penalty. Nevertheless a great lap by Kobayashi and another good showing by the Swiss team with two cars in the top ten as Sergio Perez ended the session eighth – career best starting positions for both drivers.
Kobayashi said, “It was great. The team have built a great car. I was happy with weekend. P3 is more than enough. We never expected this. I hope to be on the podium. We have to keep up with Mercedes and that’s my target. The start is the most dangerous point so I have to watch out.”
After a trio of subdued practice sessions, prior to qualifying, Kimi Raikkonen peaked when it mattered to set the fifth fastest time and claim a spot on the second row of the grid for the race. Lotus team mate Romain Grosjean will start from tenth, the Frenchman opting not to set a time and perhaps save a set of soft tyres for the race.
Sixth fastest (and fifth on the grid) was Jenson Button who has simply had no answer Hamilton’s pace, ending half a second down on his team mate.
Button reflected, “Q2 wasn’t that quick for me but I felt we could have been competitive in Q3. I only had one set in Q3 so we waited so I could have a clean circuit, but you could just feel the temperature dropping. The best time to be out was at the beginning. But it wasn’t too bad and we can race from fifth. Kamui [Kobayashi] is just in front so that’s going to be a lot of fun. Mercedes’ race pace is probably not as good as those behind so that’ll be interesting. I think that the weather will be interesting even if it doesn’t rain. When the temperature drops, it’s tough for me. When it’s hot, the car feels great.”
Arguably the biggest surprise of the weekend, perhaps even of the season so far was the woeful performance of Red Bull in Shanghai. So ‘at sea’ is the world champion team that Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are running completely different versions of the RB8 and in the end they endured their worst qualifying showing in years.
Vettel failed to make it into Q2, the very man who last year broke the record for the most poles in a season, while Webber’s best in Q3 was only good for seventh despite topping the timing screens at the end of Q2. Something is seriously amiss in the energy drinks camp and clearly their wings have been seriously clipped.
Vettel said, “I’m obviously not happy. I was pretty happy with my laps in Q2 but we now have to start the race from P11. It makes it harder but not impossible to win the race. Yesterday I was happy with the car and that’s why I started with the settings. But I’m not blaming the car for the position, I was driving.”
Webber reported, “The Q2 lap wasn’t too bad. Q3 didn’t work as well I’d like. It’s quite high maintenance to put it all together. I would have liked to have been at least a row further up. It’s a bit frustrating but hey, it’s competitive. We know we have a good race car. It’ll be interesting to see how the race unfolds.”
A day earlier Ferrari technical boss Pat Fry said he expected his team to qualify between seventh and 11th – he was off the mark on both counts with Malaysian GP winner Fernando Alonso set to start from ninth on the grid, and Felipe Massa 12th. Clearly the F2012 still has no qualifying pace.
No doubt bouyed by Sepang, Alonso was by no means downbeat, “It was more or less as we thought, it was a tough Q2 and then in Q3 I did the best lap we could which is ninth. On race day the car usually improves but it’s going to be tough. You start in ninth in a normal race and you finish in ninth you get one or two points so you can only improve – I’m ready for a crazy race.”
Under pressure Massa summed up his performance, “I’m disappointed, but I think this morning we were suffering a lot, it was not easy to be in the top 15. Maybe it’s related to the track I don’t know, so on Sunday we’re hoping that improves. I’m 12th, it’s not that bad so hopefully tomorrow that will improve too.”
Out of the top ten were the usual suspects with Pastor Maldonado 13th and Bruno Senna 14th making it an all Williams seventh row.
Followed by an all Force India eighth row, an all Toro Rosso ninth row, an all Caterham 10th row, an all Marussia 11th row and an all HRT 12th row.
With all the heavy hitters inside of the top eleven, fans can look forward to another huge battle as Mercedes may have annexed the front row, but their race pace remains suspect. Kobayashi could be the cat among the pigeons (in the style of Perez in Malaysia), while Button and Alonso are certain to be in the mix, and who knows whether Vettel may revert to ‘Webber version’ of the RB8 and also show up for a fight.
All the ingredients are in place for another cracker…
Subbed by AJN.
Qualifying – Saturday, 14 April 2012
|7||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:36.682||1:35.700||1:36.290||14|
|11||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:36.911||1:36.031||11|
|15||11||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:36.639||1:36.317||14|
|16||12||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:36.921||1:36.745||14|
|23||22||Pedro de la Rosa||HRT-Cosworth||1:40.411||7|
|Q1 107% Time||1:42.931|
Note: Hamilton qualified second, but drops five grid places as penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
- Alonso: I think this podium should be dedicated to Stefano Domenicali
- Lotus progress halted as gearbox gremlins strike in Shanghai
- Hamilton: I just can’t believe how amazing the car is and how hard everyone has worked
- Alonso: We need to keep scoring points, as many as we can now that we are not super-competitive
- Rosberg: I lead the championship and I plan to keep it that way
- Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton cruises to victory as Mercedes dominate again
- Caterham: The final result is not exactly what we wanted to achieve
- Vettel reluctant to let Ricciardo pass but eventually capitulates to team order in China
- Ferrari: The result is a reward for the effort that all the team is putting into every area
- McLaren worst of Mercedes powered teams as woes continue in China