What a qualifying session it was! One of the best ever in Formula One. The top 4 on the grid tomorrow will not feature any of the top 3 outright fastest teams of last year. In fact, we will have a Mercedes GP front row lockout for the first time in the history of Formula One World Championship. That truly is something to savour!
There was drama throughout the one hour of qualifying and uncertainty loomed large regarding who will make it to the next session and who won’t in both Q1 and Q2.
The first car out on track in Q1 was a Force India for a surprise and that was maybe due to changes in track temperature during the session. After all the cars had run on the prime tyres, things looked normal with McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes battling for the top positions and Lotus also there in the mix. The real drama, however, started to unfold when Felipe Massa was close to relegation and he chose to make a run on the softer option tyres. He did go the fastest but that led to all drivers apart from those of McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull, Lotus, and Kobayashi using the option tyres to set a lap time. That was because there seemed to be significant performance difference of around six to eight tenths of a lap between the two types of tyres and that would put some drivers in jeopardy regarding making the cut into Q2.
The driver among the big teams who seemed to have been caught out by not opting to run on options was none other than reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel. He was 15th with a minute to go in the session with Hulkenburg, Ricciardo and Vergne behind him and all three quite capable of overhauling his time by running on the options. But Vergne was very slow and the other two couldn’t improve so Vettel survived. The first 20 minutes saw the elimination of Vergne, Kovalainen, Petrov, Glock, Pic, De la Rosa and Karthikeyan.
After such a tense end to Q1, Q2 was bound to be very close. And it did turn out to be very very close. In the early stages of the session, the top 6 were covered by just 0.3 seconds ; the rest were a little further back because they had opted to use a pair of the new options in Q1, so they made their first run in Q2 on those used options. But when the cars made their second run on a fresh set of options, we got a glimpse of how close the grid is this year.
From positions 1 to 15, it was only a matter of about half a second and not making it to Q3 was only 0.3 seconds! Vettel was not lucky this time around as he missed the cut but by only 0.049s to Fernando Alonso. This was the first time Vettel did not make it into the top ten qualifying shootout since Brazil 2009. The drivers who were hence eliminated were Vettel, Massa, Maldonado, Senna, Di Resta, Hulkenburg and Ricciardo.
Nico Rosberg made an early run in Q3 because the track temperatures were dropping a bit and so it was essential to make the tyres operate in the correct window. That turned out to be the right decision in the end. With the tyres in the perfect window and a perfect lap from him by hitting every apex, Rosberg put in a scorcher of a lap and set a time of 1:35.121s. Rosberg and the team knew that that was a very good lap and so he didn’t go out for another run to save his tyres for the race(especially because of the tyre degradation problems Mercedes suffer in the race).
Till the end of the session, no one was able to even get within 0.5s of Rosberg’s time and the next best was Hamilton with a 1:35.626s. This was Rosberg’s first pole position in his Formula One career in 111 attempts although he has started on the front row before. Hamilton’s 5-place grid penalty ensures that it will be a Mercedes front row lockout tomorrow. The other star of the day was Kamui Kobayashi who qualified in 4th but will move up to the 3rd as a result of the penalty.
Kimi Raikkonen was his usual self as he put in another strong performance while qualifying 5th. He will start 4th and can be in a great position for a win tomorrow if the Mercedes run into their well-known tyre problems.
Jenson Button will start ahead of Lewis, but he would have been happier if he could have been further up the grid than 5th but nonetheless he is on the cleaner side of the grid for the start.
Mark Webber seems to have a better measure of the RB8 as compared to Vettel and that has shown in his outqualification of Vettel on all three occasions this season. He will start 6th. Behind Hamilton in 7th, Sepang star Sergio Perez will line up 8th having rounded off a very good performance for the Sauber team.
Ferrari’s problems continued as Fernando Alonso struggled to get the car only up to 9th while his teammate did not make it into Q3. Barring rain and unusual circumstances, it will again take a superhuman effort from him to bag some important points for the Scuderia.
Romain Grosjean in the second Lotus did not set a time in Q3 and will line up 10th.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m35.121s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes1m35.626s + 0.505
3. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m35.691s + 0.570
4. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m35.784s + 0.663
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m35.898s + 0.777
6. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes1m36.191s + 1.070
7. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.290s + 1.169
8. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.524s + 1.403
9. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m36.622s + 1.501
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault No time
Q2 cut-off time: 1m35.831s Gap
11. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m36.031s + 0.331
12. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m36.255s + 0.555
13. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m36.283s + 0.583
14. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m36.289s + 0.589
15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m36.317s + 0.617
16. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m36.745s + 1.045
17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m36.956s + 1.256
Q1 cut-off time: 1m36.933s Gap
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m37.714s + 1.516
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m38.463s + 2.265
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m38.677s + 2.479
21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m39.282s + 3.084
22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m39.717s + 3.519
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m40.411s + 4.213
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m41.000s + 4.802
So, we are in for a cracker of a race tomorrow when we again might see a Sauber in contention for the win albeit probably not the one we saw in Sepang. But it’s difficult to bet on any driver/team for the win with all the top 7 having a chance to stand on the top step of the podium tomorrow.
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