Nico Rosberg edged Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton by a tenth of a second to claim pole position for this afternoon’s United States Grand Prix. The German took his fourth pole of the season with his Q2 time as heavy rain once again disrupted running and led to the final part of the session was cancelled.
Row two of this grid at the Circuit of the Americas will be an all-Red Bull affair with Daniel Ricciardo qualifying fourth ahead of Daniil Kvyat.
Q1 began with steady rain falling across the track and with a queue of drivers lining up at the pit exit – all keen to put a lap on the board in the treacherous conditions.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean was quickly on the radio to tell his team that the track was on the limit in terms of driveability and within minutes Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz exceeded those limits, the Spaniard spinning off into the barriers at Turn Four after losing control when he took too much of a slippery kerb. The crash caused heavy damage to the front of his car, leaving his team with a race against time to get it repaired in time for the race.
The session was red flagged, with Hamilton at the top of the order with a lap of 1:59.393. He was followed by Daniel Ricciardo with a lap of 2:00.288 and his Red Bull Racing team-mate Daniil Kvyat was third, just under two seconds further back.
The session restarted 10 minutes later and Hamilton continued to set the pace. He soon lowered the benchmark to 1:58.025, though Ricciardo clung onto the Mercedes’ driver coat-tails, taking his Red Bull to 0.16 of Hamilton’s time.
Both were eclipsed by Rosberg, however, who with four minutes left chopped more than half a second off Hamilton’s best with a lap of 1:57.469. Ricciardo then bettered that with a 1:57.163.
Tenth-placed Sebastian Vettel, though, was back in the pits. The German lost control of his Ferrari at Turn 10 and slapped a guardrail with the rear left of his car.
In the drop zone as the clock counted the final minute were Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson in P16, his team-mate Felipe Nasr, the Manors of Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens, who were outside the 107% mark at this point, and the unfortunate Sainz.
As the final times came in Vettel tumbled to 15th place in the order but with the Sauber’s lapping almost two seconds off the Ferrari’s driver’s pace, Vettel’s Q2 berth was never in real danger and the first-segment cut saw the Saubers, Manors and Sainz eliminated.
At the top Ricciardo was quickest with a time of 1:56.495, just under two tenths ahead of Rosberg, who was two tenths clear of Hamilton. Kvyat was fourth ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg sixth in front of the Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen, the second Force India of Sergio Perez, William’s Valtteri Bottas and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. Through from P11 to P15 were Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, McLaren’s Jenson Button, Pastor Maldonado in the second Lotus, Williams’ Felipe Massa and Vettel.
With heavier rain expected in Q2, there was again a rush to get in a time at the start of the session and the Mercedes driver quickly staked their claim to a Q3 spot with Rosberg leading from Hamilton. Ricciardo was third ahead of Kvyat, Vettel and Perez.
The conditions were proving extremely tricky however and a number of drivers suffered spins, including Hulkenberg, Raikkonen and Hamilton, though all three drivers managed to keep their cars our of the barriers and continued.
With a couple of minutes left on the clock a number of drivers began to report that the track conditions were becoming untenable with Kvyat telling his pit wall that the track was “very dangerous” and Vettel telling Ferrari that it was “red flag conditions”.
At the end of the segment Rosberg still led from Hamilton, Ricciardo, Kvyat and Vettel, while Perez, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Massa and Verstappen also booked a Q3 slot. Out at this stage went 11th-placed Alonso, who was just 0.066 off Verstappen’s P10 time, Bottas, Grosjean, Button and Maldonado.
The concerns about the state of the track led race control to dispatch the safety car on an exploratory lap before Q3 and the start of the final segment was then delayed by seven minutes in the hope of clearer weather.
That hope failed to materialise, however, and three minutes before the planned resumption, race control announced the Q3 would not take place. This Nico Rosberg will start this afternoon’s race from pole position, his fourth of the season. Hamilton will join his team-mate on the front row, while row two will be an all-Red Bull affair with Ricciardo ahead of Kvyat. Vettel qualified fifth but will take a 10-place penalty for a power unit change, while Perez was sixth ahead of team-mate Hulkenberg. Raikkonen, who will also a 10-place power unit penalty, qualified eighth ahead of Massa and Verstappen.