Nico Rosberg finally broke his F1 pole position duck today with a scintillating lap in qualifying for the 2012 F1 Chinese Grand Prix.
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 at the Shanghai International Circuit. When Hamilton takes his five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, 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 in the sister car, 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.
Mark Webber will start one spot behind Button, having been a tenth slower, while Sauber's Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean will line up eighth, ninth and tenth respectively, the latter failing to set a time in the top-ten shootout.
World champion Sebastian Vettel meanwhile was a shock casualty in the second phase of qualifying. The German, running the older-spec exhaust on his RB8, had looked unhappy with his car all weekend, and continually questioned his engineers about whether his qualifying time looked likely to be enough to make the grade. He dropped to eleventh late on when Grosjean hauled his Lotus into the top ten in the final seconds.
The German's shock exit at least took some of the heat off Felipe Massa, after the Brazilian was also bumped from a tenuous top ten position. The Ferrari man will start alongside the world champion on row six, almost a moral victory for a driver under the cosh at the moment, while Pastor Maldonado - facing a possible penalty after getting in the way of Heikki Kovalainen in Q3 - Bruno Senna, Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo all also missed out on a place in the pole position shoot-out and fill positions 13 through to 17.
Jean-Eric Vergne will start one place further back than Ricciardo, after he missed the cut in the opening phase of qualifying for the second grand prix in a row. The Frenchman, who qualified eleventh on debut in Melbourne, could only repeat his Sepang result in Shanghai, and will be concerned by the seven-tenth gap that separated him from a place in Q2, and his Toro Rosso team-mate.
The usual suspects took up the remaining positions, with Heikki Kovalainen surviving a last-gasp lap from Caterham team-mate Vitaly Petrov to hold on to a spot on the inside of row ten. Timo Glock managed to open out a half-second gap to Marussia team-mate Charles Pic to claim 21st place, while Pedro de la Rosa got the better of HRT team-mate Narain Karthikeyan. All seven Q1 casualties made it inside the 107 per cent mark, Karthikeyan's best lap a 1m 41.000s, was almost 2 seconds within that cut-off.
To see the full times from qualifying for the F1 2012 Chinese Grand Prix - CLICK HERE