There were mixed fortunes for Mercedes GP Petronas in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, with Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher qualifying in fourth and 14th positions respectively.
Both drivers appeared to be in trouble when the red flag appeared to facilitate the removal of Vitaly Petrov's stricken Renault with just two minutes remaining in the second phase of qualifying but, despite a track crowded with rivals desperate to make the pole position shoot-out, Rosberg found both the space and time to leap into the final session. Schumacher, meanwhile, was unable to make a robust effort to make space for himself work to his advantage, and crossed the line without a discernable improvement in his position.
Back on track for the final ten-minute showdown, and with pole position only a faint possibility given the disparity in performance between Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes, Rosberg did well to earn himself 'best of the rest' status with a lap good enough for fourth on the grid, albeit nearly a second off Sebastian Vettel's pace.
"I'm happy with our performance and it was a good day for us," the young German commented, "It's clear that we have improved the car this weekend and I'm really pleased for everybody back at the factory who will have enjoyed watching that today. We're still not where we want to be, but we have made progress and are closer to some of the guys in front of us, today at least. We have also worked hard on the race pace so there is every chance of a good race tomorrow."
With team principal Ross Brawn already conceding that an overheating problem had made life difficult in Malaysia, and with an aero upgrade expected in Barcelona next month, the failure of another part was the last thing that Schumacher would have wanted on his crucial Q2 run, but it appears that, for the second race running, the seven-time champion suffered problems with his DRS, otherwise reputed to be the most efficient in the field.
"What a shame for me today as we have clearly demonstrated this weekend that as a team we have improved a lot," he sighed, "Nico proved that strongly with his fourth place, which was our realistic target.
"I didn't quite get my lap together in Q2 and, since then, we have found out that my rear wing was not functioning correctly as I was braking into turn 14. I am obviously hoping to have a strong start and that we have good race pace tomorrow so I can hopefully make up some positions."
Brawn confirmed that there had been an improvement in general performance since the WO2 appeared lacklustre in opening practice, but lamented Schumacher's DRS failure.
"The car has been much better this weekend and both drivers were in a good position going into qualifying today," he reflected, "It's a shame for Michael this afternoon as it didn't quite work out with the red flag and then his rear wing malfunctioned at the end of his crucial lap costing valuable time, but Nico did a fantastic job, firstly to get into Q3 in tricky circumstances, and then putting in a great lap on tyres which had already seen some usage just before the red flag. I'm pleased that we have stabilised the situation and made some encouraging progress this weekend. There is still a long way to go, but it's a start."