MONTMELO – Nico Rosberg claimed his first pole position of the 2015 Formula 1 season during qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix on Friday, edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by two-tenths of a second in Q3 on Saturday at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
The German driver ended Hamilton’s 100% pole record in 2015 with a fine performance, topping Q2 and Q3 ahead of his teammate as Mercedes once again locked out the front row of the grid.
In spite of its numerous upgrades in Spain, Ferrari was unable to challenge Mercedes for pole position, finishing half a second adrift with Sebastian Vettel in third place, whilst Kimi Raikkonen faded in the final part of the session to qualify down in seventh place.
Hamilton started as he had hoped to go on in the first part of qualifying, finishing fastest ahead of Rosberg on his first prime tire run. The Briton lapped three-tenths quicker despite reporting a lack of grip, and went faster still with a second hard tire run towards the end of Q1, finding another nine-tenths of a second to secure top spot.
Ferrari opted to send Kimi Raikkonen out for a second run on the medium compound tire, but the Finn could only finish the session in third place behind the Mercedes drivers despite the pace advantage it offered. Most of the field opted to follow suit given the pace difference between the two tires, resulting in a flurry of times and position changes towards the end of the session.
McLaren managed to get both of its drivers through to Q2 for the first time in 2015, with Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso finishing 13th and 15th respectively. However, this came at the expense of Marcus Ericsson, who finished 16th ahead Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Manor’s Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi filled out the back row of the grid once again.
In response to the pace shown by his teammate, Rosberg laid down the early benchmark in Q2, going half a second faster than Hamilton with his first run on the medium tire. Mercedes’ pace was such that the team opted not to send its drivers out again, whilst Ferrari also believed that Vettel and Raikkonen had done enough to avoid using a second set of tires.
Their decision was justified as none of the five drivers in the dropzone after their first runs managed to improve by enough to get through to Q3. Romain Grosjean finished half a second adrift Daniil Kvyat in P10 to suffer his first Q2 elimination of the year, and was joined by Lotus teammate Pastor Maldonado. McLaren’s run came to an end with Alonso and Button in P13 and P14 respectively, whilst Felipe Nasr qualified 15th for Sauber.
Hamilton looked to send out a warning shot to Rosberg by getting in an early lap in Q3, and he appeared to do exactly that by becoming the first driver to dip below the 1m25s mark all weekend long with his first flying lap. However, Rosberg dug deep to find a further three-tenths of a second on his teammate and put himself on provisional pole with just one flying lap remaining in qualifying.
However, Hamilton could not get his final lap together and failed to improve his time, handing pole position to Rosberg by three-tenths of a second. The German driver was quick to thank his team over the radio after securing his first pole of the season, whilst Hamilton was left to think of what could have been.
Sebastian Vettel continued his fine start to life with Ferrari by qualifying third, albeit half a second behind the Mercedes duo. Valtteri Bottas finished an excellent fourth for Williams ahead of the Toro Rosso duo of Carlos Sainz Jr – the highest qualifying Spanish driver – and Max Verstappen in P5 and P6. Tomorrow will be the first time that the team has ever started from inside the top ten at Barcelona.
Kimi Raikkonen was unable to hook up his final lap in Q3, leaving him seventh on the grid ahead Daniil Kvyat in P8, who finished in the top ten of qualifying for just the second time all season. His teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, rounded out the top ten behind Felipe Massa, who qualified ninth for Williams.
The intra-team battle at Mercedes so far this season has been incredibly one-sided, but Rosberg has now fought back and ended Hamilton’s pole position record. However, he will know all too well that it is the race which matters more, and putting an end to his losing streak tomorrow is crucial if he is to revive his championship hopes.