Rosberg springs a Shanghai stunner

By on Saturday, April 14, 2012

Nico Rosberg claimed pole at his 111th attempt

Somewhere in Shanghai, Bernie Ecclestone is sat smiling and rubbing his hands with glee.

Three qualifying sessions and two races have provided little evidence as to where the 2012 F1 crown will be heading and there appears to be plenty of surprises along the way.

Mercedes locking out the front row wasn’t a huge shock, but the manner in which Nico Rosberg took his maiden pole position – a whopping 0.505s faster than Lewis Hamilton – was spectacular. His pole lap was 95 seconds of perfection as he took Mercedes’s first pole since 1955.

Sergio Perez stunned the paddock in Malaysia with his podium and Sauber also provided a pleasant surprise in Shanghai as Kamui Kobayashi put in a stunning lap in Q3 to start third.

Coupled with a few other head-scratching moments and this leaves so many questions as to the destination of the three trophies to be handed out tomorrow.

Mercedes will start at the front tomorrow but their race pace is nowhere near as good as their qualifying pace while their tyre preservation is also poor. Schumacher said they were cooking their tyres in Australia, but they couldn't get heat into them in Malaysia.  Track temperatures similar to today therefore should help their cause, but a lot will pin on what happens to Kamui Kobayashi. A short run down to Turn 1 means that the chance of positions changing in the opening section of the race is low. If Kobayashi remains third, this could give Mercedes a sufficient buffer with which they can resist the onslaught from McLaren and Red Bull. Nico Rosberg has always run strongly in China, battling for the win in 2010 and leading a large chunk of the race last year as well. He is in prime position for his maiden victory tomorrow but there’s a long way to go yet.

McLaren still appear to be the fastest car in race trim but Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will start only 5th and 7th. Button complained of having no grip as he struggled with the cold conditions towards the end of Q3. Weather forecasts are notoriously sketchy in Shanghai – few expected the deluge of rain that arrived in 2009 – but tomorrow points to slightly sunnier conditions. However, the race begins an hour later than qualifying did, so this could play a major part in the outcome of the 56 lap event. Lewis Hamilton excels in low grip conditions, so expect him to fight his way to the podium places tomorrow.

The unknowns remain. Nobody is quite certain as to what Sauber and Lotus can achieve. If a three stop strategy seems the way to go, then expect Kobayashi and Perez to gamble on stopping just twice. The C31 is easy on its rubber, meaning that the Swiss team could upset the running order tomorrow. Their race pace in Australia was promising, meaning that they could even fight for the win tomorrow. Kimi Raikkonen lines up fourth but the pace of the E20 in the race is still uncertain. Raikkonen was held back in Australia after qualifying eighteenth, while Romain Grosjean fell out after two laps and pace from Malaysia is rendered meaningless in dry Chinese conditions.

Red Bull is the team under pressure. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel will start from sixth and eleventh respectively, after the reigning champion failed to make Q3 for the first time since the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix. Vettel has reverted back to the old style exhaust system and it doesn’t appear to be working. Nevertheless, only 0.3s separated the fastest eleven in Q2 which points towards a thrilling season. Ferrari’s struggles continue with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa starting ninth and twelfth respectively. The Italian team will be doing rain dances all night as it provides their only realistic hopes of a decent points haul.

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