In the closest pole fight since Mercedes lost out to Williams in Austria, Rosberg lapped in 1m 10.023s which aced Hamilton’s 1m 10.056s by just 0.033s. The Williams duo of local favourite Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were right on their tails even though, unlike the Silver Arrows drivers, they didn’t improve on their second Q3 runs. Massa lapped in 1m 10.247s, Bottas in 1m 10.305s.
Against initial dismal forecasts the track remained dry all day after the anticipated storm had blown itself out in the early hours, which made things a lot easier for everyone.
As Rosberg set the pace from Hamilton in Q1, and Massa and Bottas jumped to third and fourth, Lotus’s bubble of optimism burst as Romain Grosjean was 15th and the first faller on 1m 12.037s with team mate Pastor Maldonado 18th on 1m 12.233s. In between them Jean-Eric Vergne was a bitterly disappointed 16th in a Toro Rosso he described as 'undriveable' with 1m 12.040s, and Force India's Sergio Perez was 17th on 1m 12.076s.
Q2 saw Rosberg again fastest, but late runs by Massa (who ended up only four-hundredths off the Mercedes) and Bottas pushed Hamilton to fourth. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo also improved right at the end, knocking out Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez who himself had just pushed Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg out of the top 10. Gutierrez lapped in 1m 11.591s for 11th, as Hulkenberg posted 1m 11.978s for 12th.
After a big grassy moment early on at Turn 12, Juncao, Adrian Sutil was 13th for Sauber on 1m 12.099s, while Daniil Kvyat failed to record a time for Toro Rosso.
As Rosberg lapped in 1m 10.166s to pip Hamilton’s 1m 10.195s, and then both improved, the Williams drivers had to rely on their first timed runs in Q3, where Jenson Button reversed his Friday misfortunes with fifth for McLaren in 1m 10.930s. That just beat Sebastian Vettel’s 1m 10.938s for Red Bull as Kevin Magnussen put the second MP4-29 seventh with 1m 10.969s.
Fernando Alonso’s first effort yielded 1m 10.977s and eighth place for Ferrari, leaving Ricciardo a disappointed ninth with 1m 11.075s. Completing the top ten was Kimi Raikkonen, who lost some momentum in Q3 and ended up recording 1m 11.099s in the second F14 T.
Perez and Kvyat both have seven-place grid penalties; the former's for reckless driving in Austin, the latter's the remainder of a ten-place engine-change penalty carried over from the United States.
Thus the provisional grid will line up: Rosberg, Hamilton; Massa, Bottas; Button, Vettel; Magnussen, Alonso; Ricciardo, Raikkonen; Gutierrez, Hulkenberg; Sutil, Grosjean; Vergne, Maldonado; Kvyat, Perez.