BARCELONA // Championship leader Nico Rosberg declared Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix to be game on, with everything to play for despite Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton pulling out an ace in qualifying.
In the battle of the minds between Formula One’s runaway title contenders, Hamilton landed another psychological blow at the Circuit de Catalunya.
The Briton’s fourth pole in five races left him perfectly placed to take a fourth win in a row and seize the overall points lead from Rosberg, who had been fastest in final practice at a circuit where he beat everyone in qualifying last year.
“I don’t particularly enjoy coming second to Lewis. I am, of course, disappointed, but in the end it was a good lap from me, so Lewis just did a better job and that’s just the way it is,” Rosberg said. “Anyway, it’s still all to play for [Sunday] ... all it takes is a good start [Sunday] and then I’m in the lead again.”
Hamilton’s pole will still have stung, with the German well aware that the Circuit de Catalunya is not a track that has favoured the 2008 champion in the past.
“Obviously, it gives him momentum and momentum is a part of the sport,” Rosberg said.
“The mental is part of it and that does give the momentum. I just need to stay on it, stay strong – which I am – keep pushing and try and turn it around to my favour.”
Hamilton also rubbed a little salt in the wounds by emphasising how he had been wrestling with the car’s handling and how much faster he might have gone.
“I lost a bit of pace today, so I’m really even happier knowing that I dropped a bit of pace but was able to get back at the front,” he said.
Hamilton had been fastest in Friday practice, but a few minor tweaks made overnight to improve the car had the opposite effect. He was heard on the radio during the first phase of qualifying complaining that the car was worse and there was little he could do about it.
“In Q1, you saw I was half a second off Nico, just struggling to put a lap together. But at the end I just did it by the skin of my teeth,” he said.
In China last month, Hamilton dominated through qualifying, and he said yesterday’s pole was perhaps more satisfying.
“When you’ve been on the back foot and clearly your teammate’s got the upper hand, but you manage to pull out an ace card just for that last lap, it’s a great feeling,” he said.
In Bahrain, the third round of the season, Hamilton and Rosberg duelled for the lead in the most thrilling race of the campaign so far.
While neutrals hope for a repeat of that wheel-banging scrap, Hamilton said he would do his best to prevent that from happening. “I am ready for whatever, but we’re going to work as hard as we can to make sure that is not the case,” he said.
Rising Finnish star Valtteri Bottas confirmed the revived Williams team’s resurgence by claiming fourth on the starting grid.
Bottas, 24, in his second season as an F1 driver, is one of four drivers to have scored points in every race this season. He pulled a big performance out of the bag just when it was needed.
He had been out-performed by more experienced Brazilian teammate Felipe Massa throughout the weekend until the Q3 session, when Massa lost seven-tenths of a second in the final sector.
Bottas said: “It feels really nice, it was quite a tough weekend until qualifying. Here it’s difficult to overtake, so I’m looking forward to it. Mercedes are unbeatable, Red Bull look quick, but after that, it should be a good race.”
Vettel will start from 15th at Spanish Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel’s Spanish Grand Prix weekend went from bad to worse after Red Bull confirmed a gearbox change that dropped the Formula One champion to 15th on the starting grid for Sunday’s race.
The 26-year-old quadruple champion has suffered a series of setbacks since he arrived at the Circuit de Catalunya with a different chassis to the one he had raced in the first four rounds of the season.
A problem with the wiring loom limited his track time to four laps in Friday practice and the German pulled over in the final phase of Saturday’s qualifying with gearbox problems that left him 10th on the provisional grid.
Gearboxes must last six successive races and any unscheduled change incurs a five place penalty.
“I left the pits and...I lost drive in second gear. I went to third, decided to keep going because its possible to do a lap without second gear around here but by turn one I got stuck in fifth gear and couldn’t go up or down,” he said.
The champion, who won the last nine races of 2013 but has so far made just one podium appearance this season with a third place in Malaysia, recognised after qualifying that Sunday’s race would be difficult.
“It’s obviously tough because you don’t get more information on the car, get into the rhythm. We missed more or less both practice sessions yesterday,” he said.
Vettel said Friday’s problems came down to “a very small cable (that) got caught in the wrong place which is impossible to see when you put the car together.
“Obviously now we know where it belongs,” he said. “Up to that stage you could say we’ve just been lucky because it never got caught.”
Vettel has struggled to get the feeling he wants from the new V6 turbo powered car, and its complex energy recovery systems.
In the meantime, his new Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo has been going from strength to strength - a marked change from last year where his predecessor and compatriot Mark Webber seemed to attract all the bad luck in the team.
Ricciardo qualified third on Saturday, the fourth time in five races.
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