Hamilton and Rosberg set the initial pace in Q1, with 1m 45.316s and 1m 45.167s respectively on the ultrasoft tyres that all the frontrunners ran, but it became clear they were just banker laps as Raikkonen bettered that with 1m 44.964s as Verstappen did 1m 45.036s for second. Then, as Vettel struggled to 22nd place with a suspected broken front anti-roll bar, Ricciardo banged in a 1m 44.255s to go fastest by seven-tenths.
Improvements by Perez, McLaren’s Jenson Button and Kvyat left Rosberg down in an eventual eighth, while further back a great late lap put Marcus Ericsson and Sauber into Q2 at Kevin Magnussen’s expense. The Dane’s 1m 46.825s improvement for Renault left him 17th, ahead of Felipe Nasr’s Sauber on 1m 46.860s, Jolyon Palmer’s Renault on 1m 46.960s, and the Manors of Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon on 1m 47.667s and 1m 48.296s respectively.
The big drama, however, was Ferrari’s failure to rectify Vettel’s problem in time. With 1m 37s remaining, the unhappy German pulled off his gloves and resigned himself to starting from the back row…
Mercedes really turned it on - or up - in Q2 as an excellent lap from Rosberg stopped the clocks in 1m 43.020s, to a watching Vettel’s astonishment. After setting the fastest first sector time Hamilton then lost three-tenths in the next two to finish four-tenths adrift, as Ricciardo’s 1m 43.993s put him third ahead of Verstappen on 1m 44.112s and Raikkonen on 1m 44.159s. Crucially, the Red Bull drivers both used supersoft tyres, meaning they will start the race on the more durable rubber.
Further back, Alonso improved to seventh and Kvyat to sixth, just as Button ran his left rear wheel down the wall in Turn 14 and stopped by Turn 16 with broken steering, and Romain Grosjean put his Haas sideways on into the barriers in a hard shunt in Turn 10.
Easing off for the resulting yellow flags, neither Williams got through, Valtteri Bottas recording 1m 44.740s for 11th ahead of team mate Felipe Massa on 1m 44.991s. Button was stranded on 1m 45.144s in 13th, with Esteban Gutierrez on 1m 45.593s for Haas and Grosjean failing to improve on 1m 45.723s. And Ericsson did not better 1m 47.827s after Sauber chose to save tyres for the race.
It remains to be seen whether there will be any actions after the stewards have investigated some improvements under the yellows, notably after Perez jumped to ninth after overtaking Gutierrez.
After a 10-minute delay while the plastic barriers in Turn 10 were fixed, Q3 saw Rosberg annihilate the opposition with a lap of 1m 42.584s which proved to be a massive 0.704s faster than Hamilton, who struggled to get his left front tyre up to temperature. Raikkonen jumped the Red Bulls with 1m 43.540s, as Ricciardo managed 1m 43.741s on ultrasofts and Verstappen bemoaned a “really bad lap,” of 1m 43.843s in which the brakes were locking at both ends.
Rosberg did not improve on his second run but was still fastest with 1m 42.661s. But Hamilton’s lap was compromised from the start when he ran too deep into Turn 2 and fell to third despite improving to 1m 43.288s as Ricciardo improved more, to 1m 43.115s. Verstappen improved to 1m 43.328s to take fourth as Rakkonen failed to go faster and fell to fifth. The Finn will share row three with the superb Sainz who took his Toro Rosso to 1m 44.197s ahead of relieved team mate Kvyat on 1m 44.469s. Hulkenberg was eighth on 1m 44.479s, as Alonso took ninth with 1m 44.553s and Perez 10th with 1m 44.582s.
Thus the provisional grid will line up: Rosberg, Ricciardo; Hamilton, Verstappen; Raikkonen, Sainz; Kvyat, Hulkenberg; Alonso, Perez; Bottas, Massa; Button, Gutierrez; Grosjean, Ericsson; Magnussen, Nasr; Palmer, Wehrlein; Ocon, Vettel.