Nico Rosberg claimed his first Formula 1 pole position in Shanghai on Saturday in what was his 111th attempt.
The German heads an all Mercedes front row, with veteran Michael Schumacher moving up to 2nd place, once Lewis Hamilton had taken a grid penalty for changing a gearbox out of sequence.
Indeed, Rosberg ended the day with a double advantage – while on top in Q2, the Mercedes pilot decided to keep an extra set of tyres, before completing only a single run during Q3.
Rosberg’s best of 1:35.121 was more than half-a-second quicker than the nearest competition, although that gap extended to nearly six-tenths when Hamilton was removed from the order.
Such was his confidence with his lap time, Rosberg exited his car with three minutes to spare, apparently safe in the knowledge that the peak was secure.
An excellent last moment effort from Kamui Kobayashi earned Sauber 3rd on the grid, with Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen starting alongside.
Jenson Button heads the McLaren challenge in 5th, albeit one second shy of the top spot, although a bigger surprise were the apparent struggles being face by the once dominant Red Bull team. Despite running with the latest exhaust update from key designer Adrian Newey, Australian Mark Webber could do no better than 6th, while Sebastian Vettel did not even make it into Q3.
Hamilton’s penalty stranded him in 7th. The McLaren ace will be partnered on the fourth row by Sergio Perez in the second Sauber, while Fernando Alonso (Ferrari, 9th) and Romain Grosjean (Lotus, 10th) command row five.
Reigning world champion Vettel was the surprise Q2 exit in Shanghai. The German decided on two runs; however as he crossed the line at the chequered flag, Vettel was two-tenths shy of the marker. Alongside Vettel will be the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa, whose struggles generating tyre grip continued into the afternoon running.
It was an all-Williams seventh row, with Pastor Maldonado pipping Bruno Senna by just 0.006 seconds in the final reckoning. The Williams pair ended the session with a slight advantage over both Force India’s, led by Paul di Resta (15th). In what is becoming a difficult weekend for Toro Rosso, Daniel Ricciardo rounded out Q2, slowest of all the runners.
Such is the closeness of the current field, Q2 proved to be unusually busy, with 14 of the 17 drivers present feeling the need for an extra run on the soft Pirelli tyres as the clock closed in on zero.
An error on his fast lap by Jean-Eric Vergne rendered the French pilot the big Q1 scalp. The rookie ran wide over the kerbs exiting the fast turn ten left-hander, finishing any possibility of progressing.
Like virtually every qualifying session since the start of the 2010 season, the bottom six were filled by Caterham, Marussia and HRT. Indeed, a positive mention for the HRT team who had both drivers well inside the 107% cut-off point.
2012 Chinese Grand Prix (Rd 3, Qualifying) Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m35.121s 3. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m35.691s + 0.570 4. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m35.784s + 0.663 5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m35.898s + 0.777 6. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m36.191s + 1.070 7. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.290s + 1.169 2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m35.626s + 0.505* 8. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m36.524s + 1.403 9. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m36.622s + 1.501 10. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault No time Q2 cut-off time: 1m35.831s Gap to Q2 fastest 11. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m36.031s + 0.331 12. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m36.255s + 0.555 13. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m36.283s + 0.583 14. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m36.289s + 0.589 15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m36.317s + 0.617 16. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m36.745s + 1.045 17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m36.956s + 1.256 Q1 cut-off time: 1m36.933s Gap to Q1 fastest 18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m37.714s + 1.516 19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m38.463s + 2.265 20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m38.677s + 2.479 21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m39.282s + 3.084 22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m39.717s + 3.519 23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m40.411s + 4.213 24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m41.000s + 4.802 107% time: 1m42.931s *5-place grid penalty for gearbox change