Lewis Hamilton will start from pole position for the second race in a row after beating Sebastian Vettel by less than a tenth of a second in a rain-hit qualifying session.
Nico Rosberg took third place from Fernando Alonso with his final lap, while Daniel Ricciardo made it two Red Bulls in the top five.
After three days of dry practice sessions a deluge hit the track three-quarters of an hour before qualifying began. The rain continued until the scheduled Q1 start time of 4pm, but before then race control had already announced qualifying would be postponed.
Q1 eventually began 50 minutes later than planned, though by the time it started all bar one of the teams were satisfied the conditions were dry enough to use intermediate tyres from the moment they left the pits.
The only exception was McLaren. While their rivals took up their places at the pit lane exit on intermediate tyres, Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen headed for the track on full wet tyres.
This initially looked like it might have been a mistake. More rain was threatening and a few drops did fall halfway through the session. But both drivers managed to claim a place in Q2.
Having started late the session came to an early end when Marcus Ericsson crashed. The rookie was struggling with his Caterham all the way through turn three, and finally lost control of his car at the exit of the corner. He struck the barrier a glancing blow, collected a corner marker and came to a stop on the approach to turn four.
The session was red-flagged while Ericsson’s car was recovered, and with only half a minute remaining it was not restarted. Ericsson, who had failed to make it out of the pits initially due to a technical problem which required a “reboot” of his car.
Red Bull chose a similar course of action for Sebastian Vettel’s fellow Renault-powered car during the session due to a problem with his energy store. Nonetheless he returned to the track to set the third-fastest time.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
The weather took another turn for the worse as Q2 began and this time most drivers opted for wet weather tyres. This time the Ferrari drivers were the exceptions, heading to the track on intermediates.
As Fernando Alonso tiptoed around the sodden track on his shallowed-grooved tyres Daniil Kvyat closed on him quickly on the approach to turn nine. Kvyat went for the inside, locked his front-left wheel and the pair made contact.
Alonso limped back to the pits with a broken suspension element while Kvyat warned his team about potential wing damage. But in a piece of fortune for both drivers, race control elected to red-flag the session – a surprising move given how minor the contact had been – and everyone headed back into the pits.
Once the session resumed some drivers were still in two minds about tyres. This time Valtteri Bottas took to the track on intermediates and although the conditions had scarcely improved he stuck with them.
This proved his undoing, despite a late switch to full wets. Team mate Felipe Massa pursued the opposite course and also failed to make the cut for Q3.
Kvyat seemed to have grabbed a place in the final ten but he was eliminated by his team mate’s final lap. Sergio Perez was also knocked out along with Adrian Sutil.
Romain Grosjean dropped out too, blaming Rosberg for holding him up on his quickest lap. He wasn’t the only driver frustrated with traffic, as Ricciardo furiously complained about being held up by Bottas. The stewards announced they would investigate the incident along with the Alonso-Kvyat collision.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
|11||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso-Renault||2’02.351|
|14||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||2’02.511|
Still the rain persisted and still drivers hedged their bets on tyre compounds. It was wets all round for most but this time Button chose to go down the route of using intermediates.
The tactic worked brilliantly for Mark Webber at this track four years ago and McLaren hoped the extra two minutes in Q2 this year would afford a little more time for the track to dry out, playing into Button’s hands.
It didn’t work out that way. A mid-session burst of rain meant few drivers improved after their first runs. Hamilton, struggling with visibility, ran off the track on his final lap. Further back Vettel had failed to even start his having not made it to the start line in time.
But as conditions deteriorated Hamilton initial lap of 1’57.502 proved good enough for pole and Vettel’s fractionally slower time kept him second. Rosberg was an exception, moving up to third place at the expense of Alonso. The other Ferrari of Raikkonen ended up sixth alongside Ricciardo.
Button’s gamble failed and he remained in tenth place, two spots behind team mate Kevin Magnussen, the pair separated by Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso.
Top ten in Q3
|2||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||1’59.486|
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull-Renault||2’00.541|
|7||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||2’01.712|
|9||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso-Renault||2’03.078|
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Image © Daimler/Hoch Zwei