After the excitement of the first four flyaway races F1 returned to Europe after a long three week break. The popular European portion of the season begins this weekend with the Spanish GP, a track known to highlight the chassis and aerodynamic proficiency of your car. With all of the teams bringing significant updates everyone went into qualifying hopeful their updates had significantly improved their performance.
Immediately out in Q1 were both Sauber cars, hoping their lightened car would push them further up the grid after a difficult start to their season. The first drama of this session was a brief red flag period early in Q1 as the Lotus-Renault of Pastor Maldonado ran wide on the exit of Turn 3 and lost the wayward car before it glanced the barrier on the inside of the corner, breaking the right front wheel and eliminating Maldonado from the session. After the initial talk that this is a Red Bull track and therefore AMG Mercedes might struggle, this talk all proved unfounded as the Mercedes cars had a comfortable 0.7 second gap to the rest after Q1.
At the end of Q1 there were few surprises as the predicted faces were eliminated with Maldonado in 22nd after failing to set a time, with Kamui Kobayashi qualifying a disappointed 21st for Caterham. His rookie team mate Marcus Ericsson impressed with 20th in the other Caterham with the Marussia of Jules Bianchi in 19th from team mate Max Chilton in 18th. The final man eliminated was a disappointed Adrian Sutil in 17th with his new lightened Sauber showing little signs of improvement so far this weekend.
Q2 began with the Sahara- Force India’s cars coming out quickly before the pacesetters filtered out to set their first times. Nico Rosberg was setting the pace with a 1.26.0 with only a nice 0.6 second gap to the best of the Red Bull’s in 3rd. This session proved intriguing as pre-session session favorite for pole Lewis Hamilton appeared slightly scruffy as team mate Rosberg appeared to have the edge at this point going into the final Q3 session.
Of those eliminated in Q2 it was unsurprising to see both the Force India’s in 11th and 12th with Nico Hulkenberg ahead of Sergio Perez. 13th was okay from rookie Daniil Kvyat as Esteban Gutierrez came home 14th. The final two places were reserved for the cars that failed to set a time with Kevin Magnussen suffering a power unit failure whilst Scuderia Toro Rosso man Jean Eric Vergne had a 10 place grid penalty hanging over him after a FP2 mishap, therefore it appears his lack of running may have been a tactical decision by the team.
The final Q3 session began slowly before Nico Rosberg finally ventured out for his first run with 10 minutes left of the session. He was over halfway through his first timed lap when his run was abruptly halted as the red flags flew for a second time in this qualifying session, as the Red Bull of reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel stopped on the entry of Turn 3 with a suspected gearbox failure. The first race with his new chassis has proved difficult for Vettel with limited practice running and now a 10th place grid spot for tomorrow’s race to compound his problems.
When the session resumed Rosberg again set his first run time before Hamilton slightly eclipsed him going into their final runs. With seconds left on the clock the both started their final laps with Rosberg smashing Hamilton’s previous time before a nervous wait to see what Hamilton managed behind him. Luckily for Hamilton he had just enough in hand to set pole with 0.168 margin of pole from team mate Rosberg.
Row 2 will be filled with the Red Bull of the ever impressive Daniel Ricciardo with Martini Williams sophomore Valterri Bottas impressing again with 4th. Romain Grosjean was the standout of Q3 as he dragged his skittish Lotus-Renault into 5th when team mate Maldonado lost control in Q1 and will start 21st, whilst Kimi Raikkonen must be thrilled to out qualify team mate Fernando Alonso in 6th for Ferrari.
Alonso wasn’t far behind in 7th from Jenson Button in 8th for McLaren. The final row of the top 10 will be filled by Felipe Massa in 9th for Williams from the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel who obviously didn’t set a time. The grid is set in what promises to be an exciting Spanish GP race tomorrow.
For the official stats from qualifying please visit this link.