Q1 began in dry conditions, save for two medium patches of water directly underneath the pods that cross the Shanghai circuit at either end of the main grandstand. Caution prompted most drivers to set out for their first runon intermediate tyres, including Hamilton, who was one of the first drivers on track. He was soon reporting the track to be dry but also called through to tell his team that he was having an issue with his power unit.
As he retreated to the garage for investigations, Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, running on a slick tyre, headed down the start-finish straight. He was caught out not only by the standing water but also by a bump in the track, pitching him into a slide, into the barriers and out of qualifying. The session was red-flagged and circuit vehicles were despatched to dry the track leading to a lengthy delay.
The extra time didn’t help Hamilton, however. After the session restarted he emerged for a last-gasp attempt to set a time, but again the effort ended in failure and he returned to the garage, for good this time. With Wehrlein and Hamilton out, the remaining four elimination spots were filled by Manor’s Rio Haryanto, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, Haas’ Esteban Gutiérrez and the second Renault of Kevin Magnussen.
Q2 saw Rosberg out on track early, but with the German on soft tyres, compared with the supersofts preferred by his rivals. He jumped to the top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:36.240 and, as the session unfolded, his time began to look more and more secure. The German was eclipsed by the Ferraris of Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel but Rosberg still cruised through to Q3 on the harder tyre. That now becomes his starting tyre, a strategy that could give him a significant advantage in the race.
His passage through to the final segment was eased by the fact that, as Q2 wound down, Nico Hülkenberg’s Force India shed its front left wheel and he ground to a halt at Turn 10. The incident brought out the red flags again and with just 1m17s on the clock the segment would not be restarted. The bulk of the field were on an outlap at the time, and thus were denied the opportunity to improve their times. After the session Hülkenberg received a three place grid penalty, his team found guilty of an unsafe release.
And so to Q3. Rosberg now bolted on supsoft tyres for a straight fight and with his opening lap he took provisional pole with a lap of 1:36.111. Daniel Ricciardo then made a surprise claim for a top three starting spot, with a time of 1:36.423. It handed him P2 but he was then pushed back by Räikkönen who put in a good lap to steal P1 with a time of 1:35.972.
Sebastian Vettel though sat out the opening exchanges, saving a set of supersofts for the race in the expectation that the track would improve in the final run. Rosberg, though, had other ideas and with an early final run he set his rivals a tough target – lapping in 1:35.402.
In the end it was Ricciardo who went closest to denying the German a second Chinese GP pole. The Australian jumped to P2 with a time of 1:35.917 and when Räikkönen made a mistake on his final run and Vettel failed to find the necessary pace with his solitary effort, Rosberg’s work was done.
2016 CHINESE GP - QUALIFYING
P. DRIVER TEAM TIME 1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG 1:35.402 2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:35.917 3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:35.972 4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:36.246 5 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:36.296 6 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1:36.399 7 Sergio Perez Force India 1:36.865 8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:36.881 9 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:37.194 10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India no time Q2 Fastest time: Kimi Raikkonen 1:36.118 11 Felipe Massa Williams 1:37.347 12 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:38.826 13 Jenson Button McLaren 1:39.093 14 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:39.830 15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:40.742 16 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:42.430 Q1 Fastest time: Sebastian Vettel 1:37.001 17 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:38.673 18 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:38.770 19 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:39.528 20 Rio Haryanto Manor 1:40.264 21 Pascal Wehrlein Manor no time 22 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG no time 107% time: 1:43.791