Rosberg gets it right to break Hamilton's grip on pole
Nico Rosberg broke Lewis Hamilton’s 2015 grip on pole position by beating the defending champion to the front of the grid for the Spanish Grand P...
Nico Rosberg broke Lewis Hamilton’s 2015 grip on pole position by beating the defending champion to the front of the grid for the Spanish Grand Prix by almost three tenths of a second. Sebastian Vettel got closest to the Mercedes, finishing third, half a second back from Hamilton.
Rosberg did two laps that were both good enough for pole; it is the 16th pole of Rosberg's career and his second in two years in Spain. It was Mercedes third year in a row locking out the front row.
Hamilton went into the session undefeated on Saturdays this season so far and chasing a fifth consecutive pole for the first time in his career, but it was not to be. He looked nervy after a high speed spin in FP3 had almost put him in the wall, close to where Fernando Alonso crashed in pre-season testing.
The sessions here in Barcelona have been close-fought affairs, with the Mercedes drivers trading fastest times throughout and it was the same today, though in a reverse of the first four rounds, this time it was Rosberg in command when it mattered. Hamilton said afterwards that he had never really got the set up right in Spain.
Toro Rosso had an outstanding day with Carlos Sainz fifth and Max Verstappen sixth; the first time the team had qualified in the Top Ten in Barcelona. It's also the first time in the top six since Sebastian Vettel's win in Monza 2008. They eclipsed the other Renault powered cars of Red Bull Racing.
In the opening exchanges of Q1 on the hard tyre it was Hamilton who went quickest, but in Q2 Rosberg kicked on, eclipsing Hamilton by half a second - though the Briton insisted he had caught traffic on his run - and then in the final segment Rosberg powered past Hamilton’s opening benchmark by three tenths of a second, a lap that proved unbeatable as Hamilton failed to improve.
Afterwards, Rosberg admitted that after focusing too hard on his approach to the race in Bahrain by protecting his opening set of race tyres in Q2, he had been determined to address the issue this time out.
“Of course I needed that sooner rather than later,” he said. “It’s one step in the right direction to winning here and it was as good day at the office for sure.
“Bahrain was still in my mind and I wanted to make sure I did not make that mistake again,” he added. “I got myself in the rhythm in Q2 and it worked really well for me today.”
Hamilton, meanwhile, confessed that he had simply not found the right set-up to take the fight to his team-mate.
“I generally didn’t have the pace today,” he said. “Nico did a great job and generally I don’t know if I really had the balance where I like it. I did my best with it and I think tomorrow still there’s a lot to play for.”
Q1 got off to a sedate start with the likely front-runners keeping their powder dry as the lower orders made their opening gambits. Rosberg eventually emerged for a first run on the hard tyres and quickly rose to the top of the order with a time of 1:27.677. A minute later Hamilton beat that marker by three tenths to take top spot. Behind them was Vettel, with Williams’ Felipe Massa occupying fourth place ahead of the much-improved McLaren of Fernando Alonso.
Going into the final runs, the men in the danger zone were Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat in P16 ahead of Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado and the Manors of Will Stevens and Roberto Mehri.
The final runs saw Mercedes stick with the prime tyre and make improvements, with Hamilton sailing through at the top of the order with a time of 1:26.382. Kimi Raikkonen then jumped into second place with a lap three tenths of a second off the Briton but the Ferrari driver has made the switch to medium tyres for his run.
It was then Rosberg’s turn to improve, the German claiming P2 with a lap of 1:26.490 to sit just over a tenth adrift of his team-mate. Carlos Sainz slotted into fourth place for Toro Rosso ahead of the Williams cars of Massa and Valtteri Bottas, the Lotus machines of Pastor Maldonado, Max Verstappen in the second Toro Rosso and Vettel, who apart from the Mercedes pair, was the only man to make it into Q2 using just the prime tyre.
With Maldonado and Grosjean having escaped the drop zone, the question was whether Kvyat, who had missed much of FP3 with a water leak issue on his car could make it through.
The Russian hustled his RB11 across the line in an initial P10 but as further times came in he slipped to P14. That left Fernando Alonso as the last man through with a time of 1:27.941.
The improvements in many quarters in the last seconds of the session meant that Ricciardo suddenly found himself in trouble but as one of the last men lapping, he eventually jumped to P8 with his final lap of the 18 minutes.
It meant that out went Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who found himself just over a tenth back from Alonso, the Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez and the Manors of Stevens and Merhi.
Q2 saw reasonably straightforward progress for those expected to do so, with Rosberg going quickest in this segment with a time of 1:25.166. Hamilton eased through to Q3 in second place just over half a second behind, with Raikkonen third ahead of Massa, Vettel and Bottas.
The back end of the top 10 saw a little more action with Toro Rosso’s good form continuing as Max Verstappen’s lap of 1:26.441 was good enough for seventh ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz. That meant that both outpaced the sister cars of Red Bull Racing’s Ricciardo, who was just over two tenths behind Sainz in ninth and Kvyat who claimed the last Q3 spot with a lap of 1:26.889.
The Russian’s passage through to Q3 was, in the end, untroubled as Grosjean failed to find a good lap and took P11 with a time almost half a second down on the Red Bull. The Frenchman furiously radioed through to his team saying that he had suffered "the same thing as this morning! I lost the front end going into Turn 10”. The response was to pacify him by explaining that he had free choice of starting tyres and had plenty of strategic options from the edge of the points placings.
Grosjean qualified for row six alongside team-mate Pastor Maldonado, with row seven forming up as an all McLaren affair with Alonso ahead of Jenson Button. Felipe Nasr is set to line up in P15.
And so to Q3 and the inevitable tussle between Hamilton and Rosberg.
And it was the German who drew first blood. Hamilton set the initial pace with a lap of 1:24.948s, but Rosberg blasted past that benchmark with a lap of 1:24.681 to give the Briton almost three tenths to make up.
And that was how it remained, with the first run in qualifying once again proving the difference between the two. Hamilton failed to improve and though Rosberg looked set to widen the gap, a ragged final sector left the gap at 0.267.
Behind the front pair Vettel took third just over half a second behind Hamilton, with Bottas fourth. Toro Rosso’s drivers delivered a superb Q3 performance, with local hero Sainz setting a time of 1:26.136 to take fifth place, with Verstappen sixth a tenth of a second back. They were followed by Raikkonen and Kvyat, with Massa ninth ahead of Ricciardo.
Spanish Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:24.681s -
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24.948s 0.267s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:25.458s 0.777s
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:25.694s 1.013s
5 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:26.136s 1.455s
6 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:26.249s 1.568s
7 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:26.414s 1.733s
8 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1:26.629s 1.948s
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1:26.757s 2.076s
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:26.770s 2.089s
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:27.375s 2.694s
12 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:27.450s 2.769s
13 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:27.760s 3.079s
14 Jenson Button McLaren 1:27.854s 3.173s
15 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:28.005s 3.324s
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:28.112s 3.431s
17 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:28.365s 3.684s
18 Sergio Perez Force India 1:28.442s 3.761s
19 Will Stevens Manor 1:31.200s 6.519s
20 Roberto Merhi Manor 1:32.038s 7.357s
Spanish GP: Provisional starting grid
Bottas qualified fourth and Massa ninth for tomorrow’s Spanish GP