Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg clinched pole position at the Chinese Grand Prix in an eventful qualifying session that saw two red flags and his teammate Lewis Hamilton due to start the race from the back of the grid.
The team had mixed fortunes, however, with Lewis Hamilton to start the race in last. The Briton had earlier taken a 5-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, and today, with ERS problems was unable to set a time in Q1; meaning he will start the race in last position after having begun the previous two on pole.
Ferrari looked strong in both the final practice sessions, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel topping FP2 and FP3 respectively. Raikkonen looked especially strong going into qualifying and at several stages looked to be a contender for pole position.
A late charge from Daniel Ricciardo saw the Red Bull driver move up to second. The Australian has looked strong in every race so far, and despite the issues the team have had with Renault, has had consistently high-scoring performances that have seen Red Bull lead Ferrari in the championship standings as of now.
The qualifying session was an eventful one; 30 seconds into the race saw the first red flag, with Manor Racing rookie Pascal Wehrlein spinning into the barriers. The German DTM winner, who made his F1 debut this year, was the victim of some unfortunate timing, activating his DRS at the wrong moment and going over a puddle on a now-drying track. That pushed him to the back of the grid with Hamilton.
That was not the first red flag of qualifying.
Eliminated in Q1: Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez, Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein and teammate Rio Haryanto, Kevin Magnussen of Renault and Lewis Hamilton.
Force India had looked strong in the initial stages of qualifying, and into Q2, with Sergio Perez even in second for a time behind Rosberg early on. Unfortunately, the team’s troubles would surprise them – and spectators at the track.
Nico Rosberg looked strong going into the second session, and with a now-relatively-dry track on still cooler temperatures, the German set a fast time on slower tyres than his Ferrari rivals.
Second red flag
Red Bull began to push further in Q2, with Ferrari pushing even harder; Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel went to the top of the grid, and looked strong until near the end of that session; Force India then took the biggest hit, with Nico Hulkenberg’s front left wheel coming entirely loose from his car and rolling onto track.
That prompted red flags again – and they came at an inopportune time for Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, all of whom had been en route to improving their timings to progress to the final qualifying session.
With only over a minute to go in Q2 when the session was red-flagged, that session ended and with it the hopes of a number of drivers.
Eliminated in Q2: Nasr, Ericsson, Grosjean, Button, Alonso, Massa.
This session was markedly less eventful, although Ferrari and Mercedes were still locked in a tight battle to claim pole, which looked all but set for 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. Toro Rosso youngster Carlos Sainz Jr outdrove his teammate Max Verstappen, and was for a time in P2 behind Rosberg, who took the lead with 6 minutes of the session remaining.
Williams’ Valtteri Bottas was pushing hard through the session, but in the end was outraced by the Red Bulls, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat.
It was Rosberg who ended in pole, but as the chequered flag went, it was Ricciardo who was faster than Kimi Raikkonen by a hair – 0.055s, an unfortunate margin for the Finn, who has looked to be returning to his old form, but a splendid effort from the Australian.
Raikkonen rounded off the front row in 3rd.
Force India were under investigation for Hulkenberg’s loose wheel nut, and will likely be penalized ahead of tomorrow’s race.
UPDATE: Lewis Hamilton will have a power-unit change for Lewis Hamilton after an issue was found with the MGU-H. It is his second power united of the season but Mercedes hope to use the first later again in the season.