Rosberg - the world championship leader - finished half a second up on Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who sprung a surprise to keep the Ferraris off the front row - Kimi Raikkonen was third, less than a tenth behind the Australian, with team mate Sebastian Vettel fourth.
Valtteri Bottas took fifth for Williams ahead of Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, followed by Force India’s Sergio Perez, the Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen, and the second Force India of Nico Hulkenberg.
After morning rain, many ventured out initially on intermediate tyres in Q1, though both Manors immediately went out on supersofts. That looked like the right choice, but as he went onto his quick lap Pascal Wehrlein hit a bump on a wet patch on the pit straight, causing his MR05 to snap sideways and career helplessly into the barriers on the left-hand side. “Sorry guys, no chance to do anything,” said the crestfallen young German over the radio.
The session was red flagged for 22 minutes as debris, principally from the Manor' left-rear wheel which took a big hit, was swept away, and attempts were also made to eliminate the wet patch.
When the session resumed, Vettel went fastest on 1m 37.001s on the supersofts, with Raikkonen next on 1m 37.347s from Bottas, McLaren's Jenson Button, Sainz, Rosberg and Ricciardo. But the big news was Hamilton. He had complained of a down-on-power engine, and as Mercedes confirmed an Energy Recovery System (ERS) problem, he pulled into the pits without setting a time. A five-place grid drop for an unscheduled gearbox change had seemed bad enough, but now the world champion will start the race from the back of the grid.
Joining Hamilton and Wehrlein in being eliminated from Q1 were Renault’s Kevin Magnussen, Haas’s Esteban Gutierrez, Jolyon Palmer in the second Renault, and Rio Haryanto in the other Manor.
Q2 saw the Ferraris setting the pace again with Raikkonen on 1m 36.118s to Vettel’s 1m 36.183s. But where they set those times on the supersofts, Rosberg used softs for his third-fastest 1m 36.240s – a strategic gamble that will allow him to start the race on the more durable yellow-marked rubber.
The segment ended with more drama, however, when Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India stopped at Turn 10 minus its left-front wheel, an incident that will be investigated by the stewards for a potential unsafe release.
The subsequent red flags fell at just the wrong time for Williams’ Felipe Massa, who had to abort his final flying lap and was thus eliminated as Hulkenberg – unable to take any further part in qualifying – made it through to Q3.
Also eliminated in Q2 were the two McLarens (with Fernando Alonso and Button both hugely disappointed that Hulkenberg’s misfortune had denied them the chance to move up), Romain Grosjean’s Haas, and the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr.
Moving into Q3, and it was Rosberg who set the initial pace on supersofts with 1m 36.111s - the fastest lap to that point - only for Raikkonen to reply with 1m 35.972s to confirm Ferrari’s strength. Ricciardo was an impressive third with 1m 36.423s, as Vettel sat resolutely in the garage intent on doing only one run.
But Rosberg really got things together on his second run, beating Raikkonen’s benchmark comfortably with a searing lap of 1m 35.402s. Worse still for the reds, as Ricciardo produced a super lap of 1m 35.917s to go second for Red Bull, Raikkonen made a mistake at the hairpin on his final run and came up short, leaving him third, with Vettel a disappointing fourth.
Therefore, unless there are any further penalties, the grid will provisionally line up thus: Rosberg, Ricciardo; Raikkonen, Vettel; Bottas, Kvyat; Perez, Sainz; Verstappen, Hulkenberg; Massa, Alonso; Button, Grosjean; Ericsson, Nasr; Magnussen, Gutierrez; Palmer, Haryanto; Wehrlein, Hamilton.