The inevitable happened in Barcelona today as Lewis Hamilton’s run of pole positions came to an end. A closer analysis of Rosberg’s Saturday performances so far this year reveal that before today he has halved the gap in Q3 to Hamilton when compared to 2014.
As the FIA press conference for the top three drivers from qualifying was about to begin, a smiling and relaxed Nico and Sebastian joked with each other in German, whilst a stony faced Hamilton stared straight ahead clasping his hands
James Allen suggested to Lewis he had been on the back foot most of the day, following an uncharacteristic spin in FP3. This meant Rosberg was quickest in two of the three practice sessions
“I didn’t think I was on the back foot at any other stage, but I genuinely didn’t have the pace today,” said Hamilton. “Nico did a great job”.
“I don’t know if I really had the balance where I like it. I did my best with it and I think tomorrow there’s still a lot to play for.”
The team had apologised for sending Hamilton out in traffic for his one and only Q2 run, which saw Rosberg go quicker topping the time sheets for that session.
This weekend it was Nico’s turn to run last in Q3 and his first run time of 1:24.681 was 0.267seconds quicker than Hamilton could manage.
It was suggested that a rising track temperature compromised the second Q3 run of the drivers, as Hamilton came across the line 0.489s behind the time of Rosberg’s first run.
Yet only Hamilton, Vettel and Rosberg failed to improve on Q3 first run times, though Nico was a mere 0.073s slower than his first effort.
In Bahrain, Rosberg had tried to box clever in Q2 and save the tyre he was set to start the race on by just doing enough to reach the top ten shoot out. Hamilton tried to copy this trick today as he was reminded over the team radio, “Lewis – all we’re looking for is a nice clean lap.”
Barcelona is a circuit that the drivers know like the back of their hand, and so the slightest mistake is difficult to recover. A precise handling car and accurate driving style is key to finding the lap time around the Circuit de Catalunya.
Hamilton’s relatively poor handling car caused him to make several mistakes on both of his Q3 runs, the most crucial though was missing his turn in point at the first corner, compromising his exit of turn two meaning Lewis was in catch up mode for the rest of each lap.
Rosberg was naturally pleased with his performance, and knows both tyre degradation and the Mercedes team strategy to beat Ferrari will be important factors in the race tomorrow.
“Strategy is going to be important and it is a big advantage to have a set of unused tyres for tomorrow’s race,” said Rosberg. “Overtaking is more difficult at this track, so starting in front is a particularly big advantage here.”