2012 Chinese Grand Prix Qualifying: Rosberg Clinches 1st Career Pole

Formula1 action resumed after three weeks and it was much awaited. Infact, fans will be treated with back to back GPs as the circus will head to Bahrain and go racing next weekend itself. (Read more: Why Back To Back Formula1 Grand Prix Weekends Are Fun)

Leading to China’s weekend of hosting Formula1, I can say that Bahrain somewhere stole the thunder away by its constant media updates and questions on whether Formula1 should go racing in Bahrain! More thoughts on this later.

Thoughts on the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix Qualifying:

Top 10:

–          Nico Rosberg finally broke his qualifying duck and secured his maiden career pole. I must say it was a treat to watch the on-board footage of his phenomenal qualifying lap. Rosberg was the first driver to set a laptime in Q3 of qualifying and this actually worked in his favour.

–          Track temperatures dropped as the session progressed and this is what caught out the other drivers as they struggled to get their tyres to optimum working temperatures. The result, Rosberg claimed pole by a half second margin, which in a massive difference going by the time difference in Q2.

–          Also, this was the first time in 2012, Rosberg outqualified his illustrious team-mate Schumacher which is good for Mercedes GP’s inter-team rivalry. In Australia and Malaysia, Rosberg’s driver errors put fans in doubt if he could perform under pressure.

–          However, in the race, I expect the Mercedes cars to go backwards and somewhere get the feeling that Schumacher will jump Rosberg at the start and lead the race briefly before extreme tyre wear takes over. Schumacher’s last career win was at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix with Ferrari.

–          Hamilton, who was my bet for pole in Shanghai, came second and a 5 place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change will see him start the race from P7, two spots behind Button, who also struggled with his tyres. While the Mclarens weren’t the stars of the qualifying as expected, I do expect them to be strong in the race. Infact, I think one of the two Mclarens will be in fight for victory and this time it could well be Hamilton.

–          The star of the Chinese GP qualifying was Kamui Kobayashi who qualified a career best 4th place. Sauber was the only mid-field team who could make it into Q3. Perez qualified 8th and 8 tenths down on Kobayashi. Impressive qualifying by Sauber I would say, especially since their car is not known for one-lap qualifying pace.

–          Raikkonen qualified 5th in his Lotus and I would reckon has an outside chance for victory in the race. The Lotus cars do have the speed and along with Kobayashi, Raikkonen is best placed to make the most of the Mercedes cars when they suffer from tyre wear. Grosjean, whose last ditch effort got him into Q3, decided to save tyres and not set a time in Q3. He starts from P10, alongside Alonso’s Ferrari.

–          Both Ferrari and Red Bull Racing had only driver each who made it to the top 10. Webber, who seems to be adapting to the 2012 car better qualified in P7 and over one second off Rosberg’s pace. Similarly, Alonso qualified P9 and 1.5 seconds off pole. While their qualifying sessions weren’t the best, I do expect both these drivers to be stronger in the race. I would reckon that Webber could be in sight of a podium should he have an incident-free race.

Q2 Eliminations:

–          As always, Q2 was the most exciting of all the three sessions. We had all the mid-field teams fight to grasp a position or two in the top 10 and progress into Q3 and we had the drivers of the top teams avoid elimination by a mid-fielder! Q2 is the best reflection on how close the teams and competition is this season.

–          We had the top 10 separated only by 0.28 of a second, whereas P12 to P15 was separated by less than a tenth!

–          However, the big eliminators in Q2 were reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s no. 2 driver, Felipe Massa. Vettel was unable to produce a lap which was capable of a position in Q3 and as for Massa his Q2 lap was around two tenths off Alonso. In my view, this is a good improvement for the Brazilian who is struggling to find form this season. Both these drivers will start from row 6 on the grid.

–          Rows 7, 8 and 9 will be occupied by team-mates of Williams, Sahara Force India and Toro Rosso, who I believe have been left behind by the Sauber duo for the moment. The difference between these teams and Sauber was half a second in this session.

Q1 Eliminations:

–          The last 5 minutes of this session were most interesting when mid-fielder runners put on soft tyres and claimed the top 10 positions leaving top runners (like Vettel and Rosberg) almost on the brink of elimination with a couple of minutes to go.

–          Vergne was the fall guy yet again in Q1 and this was his second exit in three races in Q1. His lap was nearly a second off Ricciardo but seven tenths faster than Caterham’s Kovalainen, who qualified in P19.

–          Two tenths behind Kovalainen was his team-mate Petrov, there by locking row 10 for the Caterhams. This will be the third race in a row where Petrov will start from P20!

–          Rows 11 and 12 are blocked by the Marussia and HRT racing duos, where the more experienced drivers (Glock and de la Rosa) were more than 4 tenths ahead of their team-mates.

–          The good news for HRT is that they made the 107% cut off mark quite easily, however, all Karthikeyan fans would be disappointed to know that he qualified 24th and last yet again.

–          The difference between the fastest car in Q1 and Karthikeyan’s HRT was nearly 5 seconds! (Read more: Has TATA Made The Wrong Decision With HRT)

Come Race Day, tyre wear and track temperatures will be key factors to extracting consistent race pace from the race cars for all teams. Mclaren and Red Bull have strong race pace and Ferrari have brought five new updates to their F2012. This means that we could witness a five team battle for victory (if you add in Mercedes and Lotus).

Competition this season has been very close and if you still need proof, check out the change in pecking order in today’s qualifying session; a Mclaren is only as low as 5th on the grid, whereas World Champions Red Bull start 6th. Game on!

2012 Indian Grand Prix Tickets are on sale. Read my guide to selecting the best seats at the Buddh International Circuit.

RJ Rishi Kapoor and I made some predictions for the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix. Hear our podcast here.

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

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