Rosberg storms to maiden pole
Mercedes deliver on single-lap promise to snare China front row
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 14/04/12 11:58am
Nico Rosberg produced a blistering qualifying performance to finally deliver his first Formula 1 pole position at the 111th time of asking as Mercedes' much-anticipated qualifying threat materialised into a front-row lockout in China.
The German star, outperformed by older team-mate Michael Schumacher at the first two grands prix of the season, uncorked a stunning 1:35.121 lap on his very first Q3 run which put him a mammoth half a second clear of the field.
Such was Rosberg's confidence, and obvious satisfaction with his stunning lap, that he then chose to sit out the second Q3 runs altogether, the 26-year-old seen walking to the weigh bridge as nearest challengers Lewis Hamilton and Schumacher tried, and failed, to improve on their own initial laps.
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Hamilton remained second on the timesheet, but the five-place penalty he carried into qualifying for a gearbox change means he will drop to seventh on Sunday's grid, meaning Schumacher is promoted to the front row - the first time he has started there since Japan 2006.
While Mercedes' first pole as a team owner since the 1950s was a stunning achievement, World Champion Sebastian Vettel's Q2 elimination was arguably even more of a surprise as the German struggled to extract sufficient pace from Red Bull's RB8.
Appearing to be far from happy with the balance of the car despite having opted to run with an older specification exhaust package this weekend, the 24-year-old slipped to 11th right at the last in the second knockout phase despite lapping only three tenths slower than team-mate Mark Webber, who set the Q2 pace.
"You could just see, he touched all the right parts of the race track. He had the throttle down hard; the DRS open as soon as he could. It just seemed like a very sweet lap which came together beautifully."
Martin Brundle on Rosberg's pole Quotes of the week
Indeed, amid a rather unpredictable qualifying hour, Kamui Kobayashi responded to team-mate Sergio Perez's sensational Malaysian GP performance by storming to a career-high third on the grid for Sauber, with returning former World Champion Kimi Raikkonen quietly taking the other second row spot for Lotus once Hamilton's penalty was taken into account.
Jenson Button could only manage sixth, although will start fifth courtesy of team-mate Hamilton's demotion, for McLaren while Webber slipped from the Q2 summit to seventh in the lead Red Bull.
Next up was Perez, the Mexican underlining Sauber's continued strong form, with championship leader Fernando Alonso hustling his Ferrari to ninth as Romain Grosjean opted against setting a Q3 time in the second Lotus.
"If some teams are thinking of three-stopping tomorrow, Sauber are definitely thinking of two-stopping. They've got a car that's quick in a straight line, both cars well inside the top 10... I think they could be a great story tomorrow."
Martin Brundle on Sauber Quotes of the week
Vettel's 11th place represents his worst qualifying result since the 2009 Brazilian GP, with last season's qualifying supremo reduced to sharing row six with Felipe Massa whose wait for a first 2012 Q3 berth continued - although such were his and Ferrari's struggles throughout practice that there were suggestions the under-pressure Brazilian could even fold as early as Q1.
Williams duo Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna were separated by a mere six thousandths of a second in 13th and 14th places respectively, the Grove squad outperforming Force India as Paul di Resta made it two-one in his qualifying duel with Nico Hulkenberg.
Toro Rosso proved the slowest of the midfield runners on this occasion and lost rookie Jean-Eric Vergne in the first knockout phase, the Frenchman lapping nearly 0.8s slower than team-mate Daniel Ricciardo alone to join the usual suspects below the cut line.
Vergne, however, may start lower down the grid after stewards chose to investigate an alleged case of blocking on Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen, who qualified directly behind him.