First time this season, a team other than Mercedes will start from the front of the field for Sunday’s Formula One Grand Prix. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel claims pole position by half a second; Daniel Ricciardo second for Red Bull ahead of Kimi Raikkonen; Lewis Hamilton only fifth with Nico Rosberg sixth; Mercedes’ worst result of the year.
Alexander Rossi was the first driver to head out on track followed by the Williams duo of Massa and Bottas as lights went green signalling the start of the first part of qualifying.
The Finnish driver enlightened the timingsheets with a 1:48.094 on soft rubber while his teammate Massa went three tenths shy. As Maldonado wrestled his Lotus through the corners and Grosjean locked up severely going straight on, Verstappen registered a lap quickest of all.
At the half way stage, Vettel led with a 1:46.017 ahead of Ricciardo, Kvyat, Raikkonen, Button and Rosberg. Jenson Button’s pace was due to the early switch to super soft tyres while Alonso was down in 13th.
With six minutes left, Hamilton found himself almost in the drop zone languishing 14th whilst Grosjean, Sainz, Perez, Maldonado and the Manors were in the bottom six.
Verstsppen and Hulkenberg improved on their super soft tyre runs with the rest of the field did everything they could to not get knocked out. As lap times tumbled, Hamilton improved to go quickest before Kvyat outsmarted him with a lap over four tenths faster than the struggling Mercedes.
Massa, Button, Maldonado, Nasr and Ericsson were in spot of bother when chequered flag fell they were on their final flying lap. Button was the last driver to cross the line and just about squeezed through with a time 0.074s better than the cut-off needed to mark only his team’s third successful double entry into Q2 this season. On his debut, the American Rossi qualified shy of Manor teammate Stevens to line-up last on the grid.
Eliminated: Nasr, Ericsson, Maldonado, Stevens and Rossi
Bottas was the first to leave the garage at the start of Q2 and lapped at 1:46.247s two tenths ahead of Hulkeneberg before Massa posted the fastest lap on the circuit.
With the threatening pace, Red Bull’s Kvyat and Ricciardo headed one-two moments before Raikkonen sandwiched between them. However, Vettel’s 1:44.743 bettered everyone as he topped with a 0.236s advantage over Kvyat.
Meanwhile, the Mercedes pair of Hamilton and Rosberg managed only fifth and sixth respectively – almost a second off the pace. In the other end of the field: Perez, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Sainz and Button were in the bottom five with less than a minute remaining as battle to book a berth into Q3 intensified.
The final piece of action was cut short when Sainz made light contact with the wall and brought out yellow flags with spreading debris on track. Consequently, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Perez, Button couldn’t improve on their times and the order remained as it was before from 11th to 15th
The 12-minute session to decide the polesitter got underway with all the ten drivers making their way out as soon as light went green. Whilst Red Bull and Ferrari were likely to be favourites for pole position, it was interesting to see what Mercedes could bring to the table at the end of it.
Ricciardo set the benchmark of 1:44.607 as Kvyat went more than a tenth off his team-mate’s pace to settle with second. As Hamilton aborted his lap with a mistake, Vettel snubbed the competition and registered a flying lap three tenths quicker than Ricciardo. The order was Vettel from Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Kvyat, Rosberg, Massa and Grosjean as drivers pulled in to have a final go.
The final shot on pole saw Bottas threw into the path of Ricciardo at the pit lane, luckily no incident had taken place. Unable to make up the time in sectors one and two, Ricciardo impressed on his final sector and jumped up to second – 0.123s off the initial pacesetter Vettel. Hamilton’s hopes of equalling Senna’s consecutive poles record ended with a disappointment as he managed a lap good enough only for fifth.
Already on pole, Vettel’s sublime final flying lap of 1:43.885s earned him first pole position with Ferrari and the Italian team’s first dry pole since 2010 whilst Raikkonen finished third.
Top 10: Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Kvyat, Hamilton, Rosberg, Bottas, Verstappen, Massa and Grosjean.