Nico Rosberg denied Mclaren’s Lewis Hamilton his third Pole Position at the Shanghai Circuit today in qualifying for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver hustled his MGP W03 round the track in overcast conditions to record a laptime of 1:35:121, over half a second clear of early weekend pacesetter Hamilton.
Hamilton, however, takes a five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change on Thursday which leaves him down in 7th on the final grid, and enables German veteran Michael Schumacher to join his countryman Rosberg on the front row despite qualifying 3rd. The achievement ends a 57-year long drought for Mercedes as an independent constructor in Formula One, the first One-Two for the team since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix when the legendary Fangio and Moss occupied the front of the grid.
Equally stunning performances were produced by Japan’s Kamui Kobayashi in his Sauber who lines up 3rd thanks to Hamilton’s penalty, and Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen who overcame a difficult weekend so far to snatch 4th ahead of Jenson Button in his Mclaren. Button starts highest of the Championship leading drivers despite a lacklustre showing on Friday and in Third Practice on Saturday, the Briton contending with an apparent drop of temperature in his final Q3 run which left him struggling for grip. ‘You could just feel the temperature dropping. The best time to be out was at the beginning [of the session].’Nevertheless, he starts ahead of impressive Red Bull driver Mark Webber who left his World Champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel downcast and confused after he dropped out of the running in Q2 for the first time since October 2009. The young German is running a different exhaust setup to Webber this weekend and seems to have taken the wrong direction on chassis setup. ‘I’m obviously not happy.’ Vettel grimaced after qualifying. ‘ 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.’ Between Webber and Vettel on the grid sit Hamilton, who is still confident of a ‘fun’ race through the field, Mexican Sergio Perez, Championship Leader Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean in his Lotus E20.
Further back Felipe Massa endured another deeply unsatisfactory qualifying session, once again having to run a set of Super-Soft Pirelli tyres just to ensure he didn’t drop out of qualifying in the first session. He heads up the Williams and Force India pairings of Maldonado, Senna, Di Resta and Hulkenberg although Maldonado could yet receive a penalty for impeding Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen in the first of the qualifying sessions. Toro Rosso suffered a setback compared to their recent form with French rookie Jean-Eric Vergne qualifying 18th and Australian Daniel Ricciardo only managing 17th on the grid. Tail-end minnows Hispania once again triumphed against the odds to make it onto the last row of the grid within the 107% qualifying time rule.
Mercedes however sit right at the very front and couldn’t wish to start the race from a better position. Rosberg, who hailed his achievement as ‘The perfect lap’ has led the Chinese Grand Prix before, both in 2010 and 2011 but has been unable to convert that into a solid victory.
How he must be hoping he can tick the box labelled ‘Race Winner’ tomorrow…