As the championship contenders fought it out over the front-row positions, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was victorious in the battle for third from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, with Sebastian Vettel fifth in the Scuderia’s second car.
Daniel Ricciardo was sixth for Red Bull, with Romain Grosjean an impressive seventh for Haas. The Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, along with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso completed the top ten.
It was the 60th career pole for Hamilton and the reigning world champion was delighted to get it all spot-on, on a track that has not hitherto been kind to him, as Mercedes’ sheer pace left Ferrari and Red Bull breathless in their wake.
There was a hint of rain in the air as the session started, with a warning that there was a 70 percent risk of a proper downpour. Everyone went out on soft Pirellis as soon as Q1 started. Well, everyone apart from Vettel, that is, as his Ferrari had a brake problem that was still being rectified. He soon joined in, however.
As Hamilton set the pace with 1m 11.511s despite hitting traffic, Rosberg followed with 1m 11.815s chased by Verstappen on 1m 11.957s and Raikkonen on 1m 12.100s. Vettel did 1m 12.159s for fifth ahead of Ricciardo on 1m 12.409s.
Further back, Jolyon Palmer got through to Q2, but Renault team mate Kevin Magnussen didn’t, taking 18th place with 1m 13.410s behind Jenson Button’s brake-locking McLaren on 1m 13.276s. The Manors were next, with Pascal Wehrlein just shading Esteban Ocon, 1m 13.427s to 1m 13.432s. That left the Saubers on the back row, with Marcus Ericsson fractionally quicker than local hero Felipe Nasr, 1m 13.623s to 1m 13.681s. Six-tenths covered P14 to P22.
Hamilton dominated Q2 with 1m 11.238s from Rosberg’s 1m 11.373s and Verstappen’s 1m 11.834s. But there was drama further back as the Haas cars surged forward, knocking both Bottas and local boy Massa out of Q3 in a major shock for Williams. Hulkenberg was 10th with 1m 12.360s, leaving Bottas on 1m 12.420s from Haas’s Esteban Gutierrez on 1m 12.431s and Massa on 1m 12.521s. Then came the Toro Rossos, with Daniil Kvyat in 1m 12.726s and Carlos Sainz on 1m 12.920s. Palmer brought up the rear on 1m 13.258s.
Hamilton has been adamant that he needs to start from pole here to keep his title hopes on track, and after the first runs in Q3 he was still in front, with a stunning 1m 10.860s to Rosberg’s 1m 11.022s. Verstappen was third on 1m 11.485s, with Vettel fourth, breathing down his neck, on 1m 11.495s. Ricciardo was fifth on 1m 11.540s, Raikkonen sixth on 1m 11.614s.
Hamilton nailed it again on his second run to stop the clocks at 1m 10.736s, which was just as well as Rosberg’s 1m 10.838s improvement bettered his own first-run time. The other big mover was Raikkonen, who leapt to third on 1m 11.404s as Verstappen, Vettel and Ricciardo all failed to improve.
Grosjean’s single run had yielded an excellent 1m 11.937s for Haas and seventh, ahead of the Force Indias of Hulkenberg and Perez. Both drivers improved, the German to 1m 12.104s, the Mexican to 1m 12.165s. Alonso also went quicker, marginally, to 1m 12.266s to take 10th for McLaren.
After the session, Ocon was handed a three-place grid drop (plus two penalty points) for impeding Palmer in Q1, thus the provisional grid will line up: Hamilton, Rosberg; Raikkonen, Verstappen; Vettel, Ricciardo; Grosjean, Hulkenberg; Perez, Alonso; Bottas, Gutierrez; Massa, Kvyat; Sainz, Palmer; Button, Magnussen; Wehrlein, Ericsson; Nasr, Ocon.