With the Wall of Champions waiting patiently for the unwary, it was McLaren’s Fernando Alonso heading the pitlane queue out onto a dry track as the Q1 session light went green. All hopes for a decent qualifying for McLaren were riding on him, as team mate jenson Buton was forced to watch from the garage, his car withdrawn from qualifying due to an enforced engine change. It was an eventful first lap for Sebastian Vettel: with the Ferrari promising a performance step forward this weekend, Vettel found himself withdrawing from his first timed lap with turbo problem. With much of the pre-race discussion being on the state of Lewis Hamilton’s mindset after his Monaco strategy mishap, it was Merecedes team mate Rosberg setting the pace in the first session. Lotus’ improving form was compromised somewhat by Maldonado taking a spin on his flying lap. Nothing serious though. With just over two minutes left on the clock, Vettel rejoined the session after frantic work in the garage, taking to the track on the supersoft tyres to try to guarantee his progression to q2. Ultimetaely, he did not have the power and found himself eliminated in P16, along with a struggling Massa (Williams) and the two Manors of Merhi (P18) and Stevens (P19). To round off a topsy turvy session, it was Grosjean’s Lotus topping the timesheet.
Out from 20: Button (DNQ), Stevens (Manor), Merhi (Manor), Massa (Williams), Vettel (Ferrari).
Vettel’s early exit from qualifying seemed to be the spur that those chasing a second row spot needed. Raikkonen was the early pace-setter until, that is, the Mercedes duo set their first representative times. Bottas, carrying the Williams flag in the absence of his team mate, seemed to be running well, if still nearly a second off Hamilton’s mid-session time. There was half a second from Mercedes to the Ferrari/williams/Lotus scrap for those higher Q2 slots. Alonso’s day did not improve, finding himself qualifying in 14th. All eyes are on those second row slots. With McLaren showing a serious deficit in straight line speed, it was Grosjean topping that chart, being clocked at 212mph.
Out from 15: Nasr (Sauber), Alonso (McLaren), Ericsson (Sauber), Verstappen (Toro Rosso), Sainz (Toro Rosso).
Force India’s Hulkenberg was first out for Q3, with both cars in the final session for the first time this season. Rosberg, trailing Hamilton, was complaining of a lack of rear grip, leaving him vulnerable to a charge by any of the chasing pack. For the final scramble, both Lotuses exited their garage at the same time, almost colliding in the pitlane. As the session drew to a close, it was Raikkonen heading the chasing pack. So, Hamilton on pole (his 44th, fact fans), from Rosberg, prompting Rosberg to comment “what a rubbish end to qualifying”, with Raikkonen and Bottas sharing Row 2 in the absence of their team mates. A Lotus Row 3 and then Hulkenberg putting his Force India ahead of the Red Bulls and then his team mate Sergio Perez rounding out the top ten.
(grid positions provisional on pending penalties).