Nico Rosberg achieved his second career pole position and the Mercedes F1 team’s first back-to-back since 1955 following an exciting qualifying session at the Bahrain International Circuit.
The Silver Arrows had not looked like an outright front row contender during practice but when Rosberg recorded a lap of one minute, 32.4 seconds at the start of Q3, his rivals were unable to match it.
Sebastian Vettel came close for Red Bull Racing with a time of one minute, 32.584 seconds. He will start ahead of last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix winner Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari.
Rosberg then made his pole position absolutely certain, improving with a time of one minute, 32.330 seconds to grab the top spot by over 0.2 seconds.
His Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton was 0.4 seconds slower in fourth position. However, he will lose five places on the grid for having a gearbox change prior to qualifying.
A left-rear tyre failure damaged the rear suspension, which also included the gearbox. So the team was forced to replace it, hence the grid penalty.
Fifth position will also change post-session. Mark Webber took the place for Red Bull, but faces a three-place penalty himself after last weekend’s collision with Jean-Eric Vergne in China.
Ferrari put Felipe Massa on hard tyres for Q3 and he took sixth position, followed by the Force India pair of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil. The latter only just made it into Q3 with a late charge.
After setting the pace in Friday practice, Kimi Raikkonen was only ninth in his Lotus.
McLaren was ecstatic to see Jenson Button reach Q3 against expectations with a last-gasp lap. The 2009 world champion chose not to do a flying lap in the top ten shootout.
The late Q2 improvements pushed Romain Grosjean’s Lotus down to P11. The Frenchman was back in the pits at the end of the session with his first lap not been suitable enough to make it through.
Both Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado set identical times in the Williams during Q1. However, since Bottas recorded the one minute, 34.425 seconds lap first, meaning he made it to Q2 that became P15, his team-mate was left out with P17.
Esteban Gutierrez’s troubles continued as he only managed P18 in qualifying, which will become last when his five-place penalty for crashing into Adrian Sutil in China is applied.
There was a change in form at the back. Driving the upgraded Caterham, Charles Pic got his team ahead of Marussia for the first time this season, as he beat Jules Bianchi by a full 0.9 seconds.
Giedo van der Garde, in the older-spec Caterham, also outqualified a Marussia, pushing Max Chilton down to P22.
So a great pole position by Nico Rosberg. The first for Mercedes since Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio at the British and Italian Grands Prix in 1955. This is also the Brackley-based team first back-to back, when it was Brawn GP, since Jenson Button in 2009 Spanish and Monaco Grands Prix.
Grid positions for the Bahrain Grand Prix:
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m32.330s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m32.584s
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m32.667s
4. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m33.207s
5. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m33.235s
6. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m33.246s
7. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m33.078s*
8. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m33.327s
9. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m32.762s*
10. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes No time
11. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m33.762s
12. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.914s
13. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.974s
14. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m33.976s
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m34.105s
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m34.284s
17. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m34.425s
18. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m35.283s
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m36.178s
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m36.304s
21. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m36.476s
22. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m34.730s*
107 per cent time: 1m39.379s