The boys of Formula 1 are back after their 3-week layoff for the Spanish Grand Prix. And if it’s Saturday that means it’s 3 rounds of knockout Qualifying to determine who starts from the Pole on Sunday. Would Nico Rosberg finally get the better of his dominating Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton? Or would Ferrari jump the Silver Arrows with their ever-improving performance?
Rosberg serves notice with dominant Pole for Mercedes, Hamilton 2nd fastest; Vettel snags P3 for Ferrari
Nico Rosberg returned from the three-week break after Bahrain refreshed and up for the fight in Barcelona. The German contender and last year’s championship runner-up served notice to his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton that he was not ready to concede this early in the season. He laid down an untouchable lap midway through Q3 that clocked in at a mega fast 1:24.681. And despite having a chance to overtake Rosberg with his typical last lap heroics, Hamilton could not quite manage it this Saturday. He was a mere .267 behind and will settle for P2 on the grid. It remains to be seen if Rosberg can make it happen in a race and with Hamilton winning 3 of the first 4 Grand Prix another victory for the Englishman would be hard to overcome. Still, Rosberg seems even more comfortable than most at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Formula 1’s default test track, and a win could do wonders for his badly shaken confidence, as well as the Championship battle as a whole.
Ferrari had mixed qualifying results in their return to Europe after showing steady improvement in each of the “fly away” races that start the season. Sebastian Vettel was back on form and was able to grab 3rd position barely half a second behind Hamilton. But Kimi Raikkonen, who placed an impressive 2nd in the last Grand Prix in Bahrain, struggled after one of his fresh sets of tires was bizarrely burnt beyond using by the warming blankets and had to settle for P7. That left Williams’ Valtteri Bottas in prime position to capitalize and the young Finn didn’t disappoint, hooking up a fast lap good enough for 4th on the grid. His teammate Felipe Massa was not nearly as quick and ended up a rather inexplicably poor P9, not what the desperate-to-overtake-Ferrari Williams team was looking for at all.
The youthful Torro Rosso duo of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen, whose combined age is only 37, continued to impress in their rookie seasons. The Spaniard Sainz had the 5th fastest time and the Dutch Verstappen was 6th. That meant that once again the Torro Rosso “junior team” had out-qualified their ostensibly superior siblings at Red Bull: Daniil Kvyat could do no better than P8 while Daniel Ricciardo, who was in contention for the win in nearly every race last year, was left with the last spot in Q3, a humbling P10. But both Torro Rosso and Red Bull could be heading for big trouble soon regardless of their actual pace. With a season limit of four power plants before grid spot penalties are accrued and both Renault-powered teams going through engines like a woman changes shoes it may not matter how the cars qualify. With fifteen races left including tomorrow’s tilt both teams’ points prospects could get very grim in a hurry.
McLaren showed remarkable improvement from the dismal beginning of their new era of Honda power. Both cars got out of Q1 for the first time in 2015, with favorite son Fernando Alonso qualifying 13th in his home Grand Prix and Jenson Button taking 14th spot. They may be a long way from contending for a win but it seems inevitable with the race-to-race strides they continue to make that McLaren will have good points paying races in the near future. So hats off to that legendary team and all the hard work they’ve put in to go from absolutely nothing to at least something worth watching and rooting for again.
Top 10 qualifiers for the Spanish Grand Prix:
|5||55||CARLOS SAINZ||TORO ROSSO||1:26.773s||1:26.475s||1:26.136s||17|
|6||33||MAX VERSTAPPEN||TORO ROSSO||1:27.393s||1:26.441s||1:26.249s||20|
|8||26||DANIIL KVYAT||RED BULL||1:27.833s||1:26.889s||1:26.629s||16|
|10||3||DANIEL RICCIARDO||RED BULL||1:27.611s||1:26.692s||1:26.770s||16|
Tomorrow’s race airs live on NBCSports at 8AM Eastern time in the States. Let’s hope Rosberg can throw a scare into Hamilton and keep the Championship close as we start the crucial European part of the season.