Nico Rosberg ended McLaren's qualifying domination in 2012 with a spectacular lap that left his rivals gasping at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The German claimed his, and Mercedes', first pole position with a 1min 35.121secs effort that proved fully half a second clear of anyone else, with both Lewis Hamilton - polesitter in both Australia and Malaysia - and Michael Schumacher trailing in his wake. When Hamilton takes his five-place grid penalty, it will promote the seven-time world champion to an all-Mercedes front row.... Confident enough to get out of his car with the session still in full swing, Rosberg also managed to save a set of tyres for race day, which may help combat the W03's perceived long-run weakness.
McLaren had been expected to set the pace, especially when temperatures at the track dropped by five degrees for the final phase of qualifying, but Hamilton had no answer to Rosberg and team-mate Jenson Button managed only sixth, which will improve by one spot when Hamilton's penalty is applied. Getting ahead of the Briton were Kamui Kobayashi, who added to Sauber's strong start to 2012 in what will become third place, and Kimi Raikkonen, who posted the best qualifying result of his comeback to date.
With Sebastian Vettel already out of the running after failing to make it out of Q2, Red Bull hopes rested on Mark Webber but, after topping the second phase times, the Australian could only manage seventh fastest time, putting him ahead only of Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean, with the Frenchman failing to set a time in Q3.
Full report and times to follow....