After getting to within three tenths of a second of Hamilton in final practice, Vettel finished qualifying eight tenths down on the champion in qualifying, though the deficit was surely aided by Vettel’s decision to back out of unnecessary running in the final stages of the session when elimination was imminent.
Max Verstappen put in a strong performance for Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso and the young Dutchman will start tomorrow’s season-opening grand prix from fifth place. Felipe Massa was sixth for Williams ahead of Carlos Sainz in the second Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.
The new format qualifying hour began with a steady stream of cars flowing onto the circuit from the pit lane as drivers sought to get in a solid lap in advance of the first elimination, which would take place seven minutes into the segment. And when that came the first out was Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, followed 90 seconds later by team-mate Rio Haryanto.
The big casualty of the first segment was Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat. After the Haas cars of Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean had dropped out, Kvyat appeared to get his timing wrong and with no chance of another flying lap the Russian, who last year qualified 12th, was ruled out in P18. The final two to be ruled out of Q2 were Sauber’s Felipe Nasr in P17 and team-mate Marcus Ericsson in P16. The Swede looked like he might scrape through, but Renault’s Jolyon Palmer timed his running well and his final lap won him a Q2 berth at the expense of the Sauber man.
Fifteen drivers went into Q2 in search of eight Q3 slots but the eliminations this time began after six minutes. First out was Renault’s Kevin Magnussen and he was soon followed by Palmer, McLaren’s Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso. In the unfamiliar environment of the countdown a number of teams were caught out by poor timing and Williams’ Valterri Bottas and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Pérez were left to retire early to the garage with too little time left to them to start and complete another lap.
Q3 arrived and after five minutes, Daniel Ricciardo was the first to be ruled out, the Aussie unable to replicate the kind of lap that saw him make it through to the final segment in P5. He was followed by Sainz and Williams’ Felipe Massa. Ahead of them was the main mover of the final phase – Verstappen. The Toro Rosso driver made it through to the final segment in P7 but jumped to P5 in the final classification thanks to an excellent lap of 1:25.434, just four tenths adrift of Räikkönen.
The grid slot is the best of the Dutch driver's career to date. Utlimately though the battle for the top spots was always going to be between Mercedes and Ferrari. Rosberg set the first time and took P1 but wqas quickly beaten by Vettel and then by Hamilton. With Raikkonen fourth and time running out Ferrari then elected to forego any more running leaving the field clear for Rosberg to challenge Hamilton. The German couldn’t find the pace necessary and Robserg’s run of pole stretching back to last season’s Japanese Grand Prix was ended by Hamilton.
|5||33||MAX VERSTAPPEN||TORO ROSSO||1:25.434||12|
|7||55||CARLOS SAINZ||TORO ROSSO||1:25.582||14|
|8||3||DANIEL RICCIARDO||RED BULL RACING||1:25.589||15|
|9||11||SERGIO PEREZ||FORCE INDIA||1:25.753||12|
|10||27||NICO HULKENBERG||FORCE INDIA||1:25.865||14|
|18||26||DANIIL KVYAT||RED BULL RACING||1:28.006||5|
Notes: Note - Haryanto drops three grid places for pit-lane collision with Grosjean in FP3