Rosberg and Mercedes spring Spanish qualifying surprise
Nico Rosberg claimed back-to-back pole positions for the first time in his career as Mercedes locked out the front row of the grid for the Spanish Grand Prix in spectacular fashion. Lewis Hamilton fired a warning shot to the rest of the field in Q2 with a 1:21.001, six tenths faster than anyone else, but Rosberg went even faster in the top ten shootout to snatch pole ahead of his teammate and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.
Q1 saw a clear split in strategies as some backed themselves to reach the second session without the need of the medium tyres. Ferrari opted for that strategy and their confidence was well founded as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa buried the F138 into the low 1:22s, comfortably quicker than the Lotus drivers who took the same route. Mercedes were not enjoying such a comfort zone and sent both their drivers out on the medium compound, allowing Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to go first and second while the Red Bulls, somewhat surprisingly, had also scrubbed a set of options to book their Q2 place.
Further down the order, Nico Hulkenberg was battling with gear selection problems which put his Q2 place in jeopardy with the German finding himself in the drop zone as he started his final effort. A 1:23.058 would spare his and Sauber’s blushes while Esteban Gutierrez closed to within a tenth and a half of his teammate to sneak through himself, plunging both Williams drivers into the bottom six. On the anniversary of their fairytale victory on Spanish soil, the contrast was stark and painful for the Grove-based outfit with Valtteri Bottas seventeenth ahead of Pastor Maldonado who may fall further back yet from his eighteenth place after blocking Jenson Button late in the opening session.
Caterham’s much-anticipated Barcelona update paid dividends thanks to Giedo van der Garde who dragged the CT03 up to nineteenth, edging out the Marussias of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton while Charles Pic brought up the rear after a 1:25.070 saw him a tenth adrift of the British rookie.
Despite their raft of upgrades, McLaren feared that a place in Q2 was out of the question but Sergio Perez performed heroics to go seventh fastest on a 1:21.790, just two tenths shy of second placed Sebastian Vettel. Prior to today, the Mexican was 4-0 down in the qualifying head-to-head with Jenson Button but the Briton surrendered that unbeaten record with a mistake at the final chicane, ensuring he wouldn’t just be pipped by Perez but that he wouldn’t get into Q3 at all. Jenson was by no means the only shock casualty in the second session with Adrian Sutil knocked out in thirteenth, behind the two Toro Rossos of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, while Hulkenberg and Gutierrez failing to make the same improvements as their rivals from session to session, leaving them fifteenth and sixteenth.
Hamilton’s stunning late flyer in Q2 caught the attention of many, especially his advantage in sector three, but there were still questions as to just how fast the likes of Ferrari, Red Bull and Lotus could go when it mattered most. As it was, Mercedes needn’t have worried as Rosberg dropped straight into the 1:20s, pulling out a four-tenth lead over the Ferraris on their first attempts, but Sebastian Vettel cut the gap in half on his one-and-only timed lap of Q3.
Hamilton also chose to use one set of tyres in the final session having used an extra set earlier on and the Briton, fastest in qualifying here last year before the stewards intervened, could only manage a 1:20.972 which was already slower than Rosberg but the German made absolutely certain of pole with another blistering lap, a 1:20.718.
Vettel’s one shot secured him third while Kimi Raikkonen ensured Lotus will have a platform to unleash their strong race pace by qualifying fourth. Ferrari will have to be satisfied with the third row after Alonso could only finish fifth in front of his adoring public, just one thousandth of a second faster than Massa in the sister car. The Brazilian may have some explaining to do though with the stewards certain to take a look at an incident in Q2 which saw him baulk Mark Webber’s Red Bull in the final sector.
Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber will be disappointed with seventh and eighth but Sergio Perez and McLaren would certainly have taken ninth before the session started, especially if they had known they would outpace Force India with Paul Di Resta their quickest performer in tenth.
(Image Courtesy of Octane Photographic)