Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg claimed the first pole position of his career yesterday, topping the qualifiers for the Chinese Grand Prix.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton qualified second, but will have to start today’s race in seventh due to a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox.
Michael Schumacher placed third, but will be promoted to start beside his Mercedes teammate on the front row due to Hamilton’s penalty.
Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi placed an impressive fourth in qualifying, followed by Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, Jenson Button of McLaren, Mark Webber of Red Bull and Sergio Perez of Sauber, with Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Romain Grosjean of Lotus rounding out the top 10.
The biggest surprise of all was the absence of world champion Sebastian Vettel from the final session. He missed out on the top ten in Q2 by just 0.05 seconds.
Vettel was well off the pace of Red Bull teammate Webber, who is using a revamped exhaust system this weekend, which Vettel decided to forego as the reduced down force did not suit his driving style.
Rosberg did only one lap in Q3 to preserve his tires and then watched from the pit to see whether anyone could beat his time.
“It was strange before, because I was standing there on my own and everybody else was still going out and I couldn’t do anything anymore. Very strange,” he said.
Hamilton attempted to get pole position for what would have been the third consecutive time this season, but his McLaren could not match a Mercedes car which is tailor-made for the China circuit and its very long straight. Rosberg’s final time was a full half-second faster than Hamilton’s.
However, the true test for Mercedes will come in today’s race. The team had also exhibited a quick pace in the Australian and Malaysian qualifiers, but were subsequently well off the pace in both the races. Mercedes has been trying to remedy its rapid tire degradation since then and today’s race will be a test of that work.