There’s an irony in the F1 arriving in the home of unfettered commercialism and enterprise amidst an escalating row about the cost of the sport and financing. With two teams already ‘excused’ from the weekend’s activities due to financial issues, there was already a reduced grid but while the remaining nine teams were present and correct for qualifying, there was a significant cadre of teams still muttering about boycotting the race itself to protest about the escalating cost of running an F1 team.
Off-circuit problems aside, conditions could not be better for a qualifying session reconfigured to compensate for the reduced field. With Sebastian Vettel running a complete new – sixth – powertrain and therefore carrying a penalty meaning he would start from the pitlane, it was effectively an installation session for him. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, Vettel’s replacement at Red Bull for 2015, was also carrying a ten place grid penalty for an engine change, underlining the wear and limitations on engine units as we reach the closing stages of the season. McLaren’s Jenson Button was also carrying a five-place penalty for his out-of-sequence gearbox change.
It was Mercedes and Williams topping the timesheet for Q1, with Ferrari’s Alonso the best of the rest. Vettel’s non-competitive lap bagged him the first elimination spot, joined by Vergne (Toro Rosso), Gutierrez (Sauber) and Grosjean (Lotus), who ran wide on his final flying lap.
With four more to be eliminated in Q2 it was Rosberg setting the early pace with his teammate Hamilton complaining of tyre problems. Having topped every session of the weekend so far, Hamilton found himself outpaced by Rosberg in Q2. Out this session, Kvyat, Lotus’s Pastor Maldonado and the Force Indias of Perez and Hulkenberg.
It was almost two by two for Q3, with the Mercedes, Williams, Ferrari and McLaren sending both cars out for the final session, joined by Sauber’s Adrian Sutil and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. It was the improving Rosberg who took pole from his team mate, with Williams occupying the second row. A solid performance by the Ferrari pair but still not up to the exacting standards they expect.