|© AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
Nico Rosberg claimed pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday registering Mercedes’ first successive top spot since the days of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss in 1955.
The German clocked a time of 1 minute 32.330 seconds around the Bahrain International Circuit beating the challenge from Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel by a quarter of a second to clinch his second career pole.
“I really want to kick-start my season,” said Rosberg who failed to finish two of the three races this year and was ordered to stay behind his teammate and consequently off the podium in Malaysia.
But the celebrations in the Mercedes camp after qualifying could be short-lived.
"It’s going to be a tough race for sure, with rear tyre degradation especially, so a lot can still happen,” said Rosberg indicating Mercedes’ long-run pace left its two drivers wanting for more. “Difficult to say if we have enough pace to win the race but for sure we’re going to try.”
So it came as no surprise that Vettel wasn’t disappointed with the front row start.
“It was clear that even with the perfect lap he (Rosberg) was unbeatable,” confessed the defending champion. “But nevertheless, very happy. I think we managed to save some tyres throughout qualifying.”
Fernando Alonso locked up twice in the last sector alone on his final run, which the Ferrari driver aborted, squandering his chance to eclipse Rosberg and settling for third place on the starting grid after he committed the errors.
The Spaniard later said that Ferrari realised they were about half-a-tenth or one-tenth slower than their fastest lap after the miscues so "decided to come in just to save one lap on this tyres."
“It’s really good news that once again we managed to do well in qualifying, which is our Achilles Heel!" said Alonso who finds himself in the top three in as many races.
Chinese GP pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton was fourth, four-tenths slower than his teammate and will start ninth as he was handed a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change shortly after the final practice session earlier in the day.
Hamilton though confessed that he "couldn’t quite find the pace" explaining the deficit to his teammate.
The penalty is a further headache for the Briton this weekend. He struggled with the hot and sandy conditions in practice, finishing no higher than tenth in the first two sessions and then damaged his rear left tyre at the end of the third.
Mercedes said in a statement that a piece of debris on the circuit caused a left rear tyre failure which led to suspension and gearbox damage in final practice.
Mark Webber, who qualified fifth, too will incur a penalty, given for causing a collision in the preceding Chinese GP, and will drop three places but will gain a position with Hamilton dropping behind him.
The penalties play into the hands of Felipe Massa, who qualified sixth on the hard tyres as he will gain two places as a result.
The Force India pair too will gain from the revised grid after Paul di Resta qualified seventh, just ahead of teammate Adrian Sutil.
Kimi Raikkonen surprisingly could do no better than ninth despite the pace he displayed in the practice sessions admitting that he “didn’t quite get it right this afternoon”.
“My lap wasn’t great,” added the Finn who will start eighth ahead of Hamilton and Jenson Button, who rounded up the top ten.
"Kimi’s session was a bit of a mystery," said Lotus trackside operations director Alan Permane. "It just didn’t come together for him in Q3. He’s been strong all weekend up until that point."
The dusty and hot track was not kind to Lotus drivers as Romain Grosjean continued his forgettable season by only managing 11th.
McLaren also struggled, fulfilling a prediction made by team principal Martin Whitmarsh that its car would have trouble with the Bahrain circuit. Although Button made it into the top ten teammate Sergio Perez, however, was down in 12th after the Mexican was knocked out in the second leg of qualifying.
Button hailed his tenth place as a strong result saying getting through into Q3 was a positive.
"I’ll race as quickly as I can, but I don’t want people to expect too much from us," said the 2009 world champion.
With inputs from the AP report by Michael Casey