After his brake disc failure in qualifying in Germany, Hamilton’s latest round of unbelievable bad luck unravelled within moments of Q1 beginning, as his Mercedes rolled to a halt aflame in pit lane. His body language said it all when he trudged back to the pits as marshals dowsed his car with extinguishant.
There was bad news for another big name, too, as Marussia’s Jules Bianchi bumped Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen out of Q2 right at the end as the team erroneously banked on the Finn's medium-tyre run being enough to see him through. Raikkonen thus ended up 17th on 1m 26.792s, and was joined in the list of those whose day was over by Kamui Kobayashi on 1m 27.139s for Caterham, Max Chilton, who was bothered by a fuel pressure problem, in 18th on 1m 27.819s for Marussia, and Marcus Ericsson on 1m 28.643s in the second CT05. Behind Hamilton, Pastor Maldonado was also denied his chance when his Lotus ground to a halt early on.
For the record, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne headed the session on 1m 24.941s on soft tyres, with Rosberg second on 1m 25.227s on mediums.
Rosberg revealed Mercedes’ speed in Q2 with the best lap of 1m 23.310s, but Vettel and team mate Daniel Ricciardo were within striking distance with 1m 23.606s and 1m 23.676s respectively. Further back, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg leapt into Q3 with a late lap of 1m 24.647s, leaving Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat 11th on 1m 24.706s; the young Russian then spun at Turn 12. 1m 25.136s was insufficient to haul Adrian Sutil higher than 12th for Sauber, with Sergio Perez next on 1m 25.211s in a Force India troubled by hydraulic problems. Sutil’s team mate Esteban Gutierrez was 14th on 1m 25.260s with a very unhappy Romain Grosjean 15th in his Lotus on 1m 25.337s, from Bianchi on 1m 27.419s for Marussia.
Rain fell ahead of Q3, and it caught Rosberg and McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen out as they negotiated Turn 1 on their soft tyres at the start of their first flyers. Rosberg ran wide but his luck held and he made it through, but behind Magnussen locked up and hit the tyre wall, bringing out the red flags. McLaren team mate Jenson Button also slid off, but like Rosberg made it back on track safely. The session resumed after an eight-minute delay in which the tyre wall was repositioned.
When things got underway again - and the rain had subsided - Rosberg set the pace with 1m 26.488s, before his time was eclipsed first by Ricciardo on 1m 25.346s and then by Williams’ Valtteri Bottas on 1m 24.259s, before Vettel had a go with 1m 23.415s. Rosberg then seized the high ground again with 1m 23.236s as the track continued to improve. There were still a few rain spots as the session drew to its close, and the positions from P2 downwards changed hands time and again, but on his final run Vettel banged in 1m 23.201s to temporarily snatch back P1 before Rosberg reasserted himself with 1m 22.715s to put things out of anyone else’s reach.
In the end, Bottas took third with 1m 23.354s as Ricciardo jumped up to fourth on 1m 23.391s ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso on 1m 23.909s, Williams’ Felipe Massa on 1m 24.223s, Button on 1m 24.294s, Vergne on 1m 24.720s and Hulkenberg on 1m 24.775s.
Thus the grid will line up: Rosberg, Vettel; Bottas, Ricciardo; Alonso, Massa; Button, Vergne; Hulkenberg, Magnussen; Kvyat, Sutil; Perez, Gutierrez; Grosjean, Bianchi; Raikkonen, Kobayashi; Chilton, Ericsson; Hamilton, Maldonado.