Lewis Hamilton resisted pressure from team mate Nico Rosberg to take his fourth pole position this year for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Daniel Ricciardo claimed third place behind the Mercedes pair but Red Bull’s challenge was blunted by more car problems for Sebastian Vettel.
Qualifying had hardly begun when it came to a stop. Pastor Maldonado brought out the red flags when he spun his Lotus into the barrier on the inside of turn three.
The session restarted with just over 13 minutes remaining and the Mercedes drivers quickly took up their usual places at the head of the times.
But it was Rosberg ahead and Hamilton, who had set the fastest time of the weekend going into the session, was puzzled by his car’s change of balance. “It’s a nightmare to drive at the moment,” reported the mystified driver after setting a time almost half a second slower than his team mate’s
Fernando Alonso took the brave decision not to do a second flying lap at the end of the session and was rewarded – he made it through to Q2 by just a few tenths of a second and saved a set of tyres.
McLaren were grateful they chose to run again, however, as Jenson Button briefly fell into the drop zone before improving his time enough to progress.
Lotus nearly lost both their cars in Q1 as Romain Grosjean had to abort his first run. But his last effort was enough to gain a place in Q2 by just a tenth of a second.
That meant Adrian Sutil went out in Q1 for the third time. He was accompanied as usual by the Marussia and Caterham drivers, although unusually both Max Chilton and Marcus Ericsson out-qualified their team mates.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
Two drivers didn’t set a time in Q2. The first, Jean-Eric Vergne, knew before the session began he would have to take a ten-place penalty.
Kevin Magnussen, however, failed to set a time after his McLaren team discovered a problem with his car’s energy recovery system, condemning him to start 15th.
Rosberg stayed ahead of Hamilton in Q2, the pair separated by a tenth of a second. Daniel Ricciardo was third and didn’t need to return to the track after his first lap put him four tenths of a second clear of Vettel.
Alonso did do a second run this time, but he still came close to being knocked out. He ended up tenth, less than a tenth of a second ahead of Nico Hulkenberg.
The other Force India of Sergio Perez was also knocked out after Jenson Button overtook him at the chicane before his final lap began. Daniil Kvyat and Esteban Gutierrez went out in the same round.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
|11||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1’27.685|
|12||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1’28.002|
|13||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso-Renault||1’28.039|
|16||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso-Renault|
The final part of qualifying began much as the first part had – with an early red flag. This time is was caused by Vettel, whose car let him down for the second time this weekend.
The Red Bull driver couldn’t select second gear after leaving the pits, and as he slowed in turn two Hamilton had to dodge his car. Vettel came to a stop at the next corner and the session was red-flagged.
When the cars returned to the track Hamilton regained the edge he had over Rosberg on Friday. A 1’26.288 put him almost three tenths of a second ahead, but there was clearly more time to come from both cars.
Sure enough Rosberg found over a second with his final flying lap but Hamilton improved by almost as much. Despite a slightly wide line at turn five he crossed the line with over a tenth in second to spare over his team mate.
Ricciardo improved his time to take third place while Valtteri Bottas jump up to fourth. An apologetic Massa could only manage ninth in his Williams.
Between them were Grosjean in an excellent fifth for Lotus, Kimi Raikkonen ahead of Fernando Alonso in the Ferraris, and Button. Vettel’s gearbox problem leaves him tenth.
Top ten in Q3
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull-Renault||1’26.285|
|10||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
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Image © Daimler/Hoch Zwei