Shanghai Qualifying: Rosberg takes his maiden pole as Mercedes dominate

First F1 career pole position for Nico Rosberg

First F1 career pole position for Nico Rosberg

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.

Pole sitter Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 in parc ferme. Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix Qualifying, Shanghai, China, Saturday 14 April 2012.

Nico Rosberg celebrates his first F1 career pole

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.”

Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W03. Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix Qualifying, Shanghai, China, Saturday 14 April 2012.

Michael Schumacher will start from second on the grid

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.

Kamui Kobayashi (JPN) Sauber C31. Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix Practice, Shanghai, China, Friday 13 April 2012.

Kamui Kobayashi was fourth fastest

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.”

Sebastian Vettel failed to make it out of Q2

Sebastian Vettel failed to make it out of Q2

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.”

Fernando Alonso was ninth fastest

Fernando Alonso was ninth fastest

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

Pos No Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 Laps
1 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:36.875 1:35.725 1:35.121 11
2 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.763 1:35.902 1:35.626 14
3 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:36.797 1:35.794 1:35.691 13
4 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:36.863 1:35.853 1:35.784 13
5 9 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:36.850 1:35.921 1:35.898 15
6 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:36.746 1:35.942 1:36.191 16
7 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:36.682 1:35.700 1:36.290 14
8 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1:36.198 1:35.831 1:36.524 17
9 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:36.292 1:35.982 1:36.622 17
10 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:36.343 1:35.903 15
11 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:36.911 1:36.031 11
12 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:36.556 1:36.255 14
13 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1:36.528 1:36.283 14
14 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1:36.674 1:36.289 14
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
17 16 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:36.933 1:36.956 14
18 17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:37.714 8
19 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1:38.463 9
20 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1:38.677 7
21 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1:39.282 10
22 25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1:39.717 10
23 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1:40.411 7
24 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1:41.000 10
Q1 107% Time 1:42.931

Note: Hamilton qualified second, but drops five grid places as penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.

  • kaka007

    Again kamui and kimi together..that should be one hell of a battle to watch out for..hoping for a kimi,kamui and webber podium
    go kimi……go kamui…….please dont take each others out

  • kaka007

    congrats to nico on his maiden pole…and michael did great 2…
    but they are gonna fall behind in the race

  • Alex

    Gratz to Rosberg on his pole, amazing lap!

    I am too hoping for good result for Kimi and Kaumi!

    Should be great race!

  • 101

    go michael!!
    it’s ur chance . u can do it

  • Tamburello_1994

    Whens the last time the Bulls haven’t been in the top three?

    Congrats to the Mercedes lot. It’s about time they get an competitive car.

  • Tamburello_1994

    To add:

    . . . . . And it’s official: Sauber is faster than Ferrari. Galling.

  • Firoze

    Who can grudge nice guy Nico Rosberg his first maiden pole. Watching his lap on board during Q3 – it was a fantastic flawless lap. Although I am a McLaren fan, I hope he converts it to a win.I like to see Nico, Lewis and Webber on the podium after the conclusion of the race.

  • Matthias O’keeffe

    Congratz, Nico… Let’s hope and pray Michael will win the race with a Mercedes 1-2.

  • Psych4191

    Nico deserves to pull out a win. He’s been through hell and back to get one. Hoping for Nico to win, and have a Schumi/KK/Kimi/Perez/Webber/Hamilton/Button battle for the other podium spots.

    It’s incredible that we have 16 cars separated by such a small gap.

  • yogi211096

    Go Michael you can win again its a big chance for that

    I hope it will be a Mercedes 1-2 finish today

  • Sennauno

    @Mathias o’Keefe

    were you praying for chumacher of rosberg? cos i think your prayers were answered by schumachers wheel nuts