Shanghai (AFP) – Nico Rosberg will look to ram home his advantage over world champion Lewis Hamilton by extending his perfect start to the Formula One season in China on Sunday.
The German snatched pole in Saturday’s qualifying and is favourite to make it three wins on the bounce, while Hamilton, not accustomed to playing second fiddle in the battle of the feuding Mercedes rivals, starts last.
The last time Hamilton began from the back of the grid he stormed back to take third in Hungary two years ago but the Briton dismissed the possibility of lightning striking twice.
He insisted he was relishing the “emotional rollercoaster” of attempting to pick his way through the field in Shanghai, where he boasts a record four victories, including the last two years.
“Just getting points is my main goal,” said the three-time world champion after a mechanical failure effectively dashed his hopes of a Chinese hat-trick.
“All I can do is try and shape the future,” added Hamilton, who will switch engines for the race. “I just put 100 percent energy towards that, zero energy to what’s behind me.”
Rosberg, meanwhile, is enjoying a purple patch of form and could become the fourth driver to win six consecutive races, joining Sebastian Vettel (nine), Alberto Ascari (seven) and Michael Schumacher (six).
Victory on Sunday would also mean he becomes the first driver to win 17 grands prix without having secured a world championship — he is currently tied with Stirling Moss on 16.
But Rosberg, who won in Australia and Bahrain to open an early 17-point lead over Hamilton, will face a battle from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo beside him on the front row as well as the resurgent Ferraris.
Kimi Raikkonen looked set to claim his first pole since 2008 until a mistake at the hairpin, while Sebastian Vettel pushed too hard early on his lap and starts from fourth but the Ferrari pair have shown real pace in China.
“Kimi was massively close and we are definitely aware of the threat from Ferrari,” said Rosberg.
Former world champion Fernando Alonso, cleared to race this weekend after fracturing ribs in a horrific crash at last month’s season-opener in Melbourne, starts from 11th alongside McLaren team-mate Jenson Button.
Informed he had missed out on final session of qualifying after Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India lost a wheel, bringing out red flags, the Spaniard yelled down the radio: “Aaaaaaarrrrgggggh!”
Hulkenberg was later given a three-place grid penalty for the incident, demoting the German from 10th to 13th.