When the heavens opened above the Shanghai International Circuit on Saturday morning, a few worried glances towards the sky were seen in the Mercedes garage. It wasn’t a fear of not scoring pole, but instead a question of: “We’ve got to do this the hard way.”
Ultimately, ‘the hard way’ was still six-tenths of a second to nearest competitor Daniel Ricciardo as Lewis Hamilton scored his third pole position of the season on Saturday afternoon. The Briton was peerless throughout all three sessions, regularly setting the benchmark and gapping the field in a fashion that was reminiscent of Sebastian Vettel’s exploits last season.
“It was a tough session today, but I really enjoyed it,” Hamilton said after the session. “It’s definitely the most satisfying feeling to come away with pole position in these wet conditions because the track is so slippery and you need to find the grip to put the lap together.”
However, he was quick to recognise that Mercedes’ advantage was less significant than it had been in Bahrain due to the weather. “Our rivals look closer in the wet conditions, so we’ll be hoping it’s a dry race to take advantage of the position we’re in,” he said.
Hamilton was the only Mercedes driver in the post-qualifying press conference this time around as Nico Rosberg was forced to settle for fourth place. Two mistakes on his final two runs meant that his initial Q3 time was what counted, and he had a face like thunder in the FIA pen after the session.
“On my final timed lap, I was half a second quicker going into the last corner – but my time delta on my steering wheel display said that I was two tenths slower,” the German explained. “So I just took a big risk and spun because I mistakenly thought I had nothing to lose anyway.”
Try to think of the last time Nico Rosberg made a mistake like this.
You have to go back to Monaco in 2011, when he crashed in qualifying. That long ago. His unflappable attitude appears to have changed this weekend; perhaps Hamilton is starting to win the psychological war within the team?
Once again though, it was a devastating display from Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes will be keen on making sure that Rosberg manages to jump the Red Bulls tomorrow and bring home the one-two. Even if the team would never admit it, Paddy and Toto undoubtedly would like a less frightening fight at the front.
Red Bull have other ideas though. When asked if he had a chance of beating Hamilton, Vettel said: “Well, I think if we put two chicanes in all the straights then yes.”
Ricciardo’s plan? “The idea is to get a good start for both of us and just drive side by side the whole race and then just fight it out on the last lap!”
It might take more than a sprinkling of rain to stop Mercedes from running away with proceedings once again in China.
Images courtesy of Daimler.