There’s a persistent feeling in F1 that glamorous as the flyaway races are, the real business is done on the European circuits. As the circus rolled into Barcelona, a number of questions persist: has Alonso’s move to a floundering McLaren Honda lost him support in his home country; will Ferrari have brought the fight any closer to a dominant Mercedes; will Hamilton continue to subjugate his team mate in the season’s most high profile intra-team rivalry?
Free practice hadn’t hinted that there was to be any change to the existing order, despite a scrappy final session from the current leader of the Drivers’ Championship. Eyes were also on McLaren, still struggling to benefit from the incremental developments to their all-new chassis/motor package. Would they be able to convert a seemingly improved practice performance into qualifying success?
Local favourite Mehri was first out for Q1 onto a track registering at the upper end of the expected temperature range. As is becoming customary, it was the Mercedes pair trading fastest times through the session, with Vettel’s Ferrari duelling with the Williams pair to be ‘best of the rest’. Raikkonen, who had opted not to run the aero developments brought for this race, was complaining about a lack of rear grip. The McLaren pair quickly posted top ten times, boding well for their progress to Q2. Biggest casualties of Q1? Force India, with both drivers failing to progress.
It was ‘Fred’ Nasr first away in the remaining Sauber for Q2 but as expected, it was the Mercedes pair setting the pace despite Hamilton being released into traffic for his first run. McLaren’s improvement faltered as they failed to beat the Lotus pair and progress to Q3. Lotus remained upbeat about their prospects for Sunday, citing their race pace.
With history illustrating the importance of a front row start, there was extra pressure on the frontrunners for the final session, particularly Raikkonen who outpaced his illustrious team mate in the preceding runs. Perhaps underlining the twitchiness of the cars on this circuit, Bottas put his Williams well outside the track limits as struggled to hold it on his first timed lap. It was again Rosberg, seemingly more comfortable in the car, who set the target time for pole. As all ten remaining qualifiers raced to the flag, it was indeed Rosberg who held his nerve to take pole from is teammate, with Vettel’s Ferrari and Bottas’ Williams lining up on row 2 behind them.