10 Things We Learned From China Qualifying
Saturday 19-April-2014 09:24
When Nico Rosberg has to rely on sheer driving ability he comes up a long way short of team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Plus Dan 3 - Seb 1.
Daniel Ricciardo is the only driver other than the Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton to have been in the top five in Q3 at every race this year. He continued his Qualifying edge over Sebastian Vettel to make it 3-1 this season. When told he was in P2 he came back with: "Alrighty"
Because of the complexity of the 2014 cars, very few of the top teams want to risk damaging them in a wet FP3, even when it's likely they'll get good information for a wet Qualifying. In Shanghai Ferrari ran five laps (Raikkonen 4 and Alonso 1), Mercedes seven laps and McLaren seven laps.
Max Chilton was genuinely downcast after his Q1 performance having spent FP3 a whole second up on his Ferrari-sponsored team-mate Jules Bianchi, as the Marussias put in the most laps - 12 and 14 respectively. That all vanished in Qualifying. Despite no changes being made to the car Max found it a lot harder to drive: "I never did the last corner on the track!"
Two World Champions will line up side by side on the sixth row of the grid tomorrow. Both Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen were staring at elimination in Q2 and needed to find something extra on the final lap. Both are good in the wet. Neither was able to improve their time. Jenson reported that McLaren are usually good at being able to get heat into the front tyres, but this time he couldn't and it was "juddering", refusing to grip and giving him a whole lot of understeer. Button has finished in the top five in China in every race since 2009, but tomorrow it might be a stretch.
Lewis Hamilton's pole puts him on terms with Alain Prost and Jim Clark, though if you consider the number of races it's taken to get him there, the Scotsman did it in far fewer.
There has been intense focus on the inter-team rivalry at Mercedes with Nico Rosberg studying Lewis Hamilton's data intently. In the wet, where seat-of-the-pants driving ability counts more than anything, Hamilton showed why he is the better Mercedes driver. On his first run in Q3 he was 1.4 seconds faster than Rosberg and finished up 1.2 seconds quicker. Rosberg may have been up on Hamilton's time in his closing laps but made crucial mistakes at the final corner on successive laps - running wide and then spinning to bring out an ignominious Red Flag.
Lotus may be enduring a miserable time with Pastor Maldonado's car suffering an accident in practice and failing to make the Q1 session thanks to an oil leak he developed in FP3. Maldonado was already facing a grid penalty. However Romain Grosjean showed that the new Lotus E22 has the legs of the McLarens by putting it P7 in Q2, eventually qualifying in P10.
Fernando Alonso needed a last-gasp improvement to haul himself from P7 up to P5 in front of new Ferrari boss Marco Mattiacci. Mattiacci is new to F1, a sport that has a great many traditions. And one of those traditions is that Alonso always starts from P5.
Jean-Eric Vergne got the better of his rookie team-mate Daniil Kvyat at last and will start from P9. Given that JEV and Daniel Ricciardo were pretty evenly matched last season at Toro Rosso and that Ricciardo is now giving Vettel a seriously hard time, it puts in perspective the Frenchman's ability. This year it's only his weight holding him back.
The Williams cars will start from a promising 6th and 7th, with Felipe outgunning Valtteri again. Given Massa's amazing start at the last race and Alonso's (relative) sluggishness away from the line - we might even see a Williams in the top four at the first turn. Or even better...?