The season starts with the new style qualifying, still in three parts, but now with a more aggressive knockout system. Seven drivers will drop out in each of the first two sessions, with eight cars left for Q3 whittled down to just two at the end of qualifying.
With just a 20% chance of rain, it was Romain Grosjean and the two Mercedes waiting at the end of the pitlane, with it expected that it would be advantageous to set a lap early in the session. Hulkenberg and Vettel also got to the end of pitlane early, with all of them going out on the super soft tyre.
Hamilton was ahead of Rosberg on the road as they rolled out the pitlane, but Rosberg overtook the world champion on the out lap. The Brit was also overtaken by one of the Haas as well, initially struggling with his tyres after waiting at the end of the pitlane. With Grosjean ahead of him, he tried to overtake, but the Frenchman didn’t let him.
With Rosberg at the front, Rosberg went wide at the first corner and lost time, with Grosjean then closing in on the other Mercedes, with the Haas also making a mistake into turn 5. A recovering Hamilton overtook Grosjean, able to see Rosberg in the distance.
Hamilton’s first lap was a 1:26.6, with Rosberg 7 seconds down. Vettel also made a mistake and did a similar time as the other German. Raikkonen set his time and went 2nd, with Sainz in third, before being deposed by his team mate. Bottas and Massa were just behind. After his first mistake Rosberg went fourth and Vettel fifth.
With 10 minutes remaining the two Manors were at the back of the field and had pitted with Gutierrez, Button, Palmer, Nasr and Ericsson looking like they were close to getting the drop. Grosjean looked impressive in 14th.
Hamilton did another lap to go another second faster, a 1:25.3 and a full 1.2 seconds down. With seven minutes gone, the first elimination was Pascal Wehrlein at Manor, who couldn’t go any faster as he was in the pitlane, his teammate didn’t go out either so he was also eliminated in 21st. The top 11 were also not on the circuit.
Nasr improved to 13th in the Sauber, with his team mate then jumping up to 11th, before Jenson Button improved to third place in the McLaren. Magnussen also improved to 10th for Renault. Gutierrez couldn’t get to the line in time, so he was the third driver to be eliminated.
Grosjean was the next at the bottom of the order, but on track and then Daniil Kvyat, but he was in the pitlane. The Russian would fail to get through even the first part of qualifying and the first surprise. The other Red Bull driver Ricciardo, who also wasn’t safe put in a better lap to go 9th. Hulkenberg improved to go third, with Jolyon Palmer going out.
Nasr didn’t bother to do another lap after he didn’t have enough time to complete his lap, so going out in 17th.
The final drop of the session had Palmer in the hot seat, although on track and able to complete his lap. Ericsson was in 15th with teammate Magnussen in 14th. Ericsson couldn’t improve, with all eyes on Palmer. The Brit would need half a second to get ahead of Ericsson. He did improve, so Ericsson would drop out after a scruffy end to his lap.
So after an interesting session, it was Wehrlein and Haryanto, Gutierrez and Grosjean, Kvyat, Nasr and Ericsson eliminated.
Once again there was a queue at the end of the pitlane for the second part of qualifying, Nico Rosberg leading the way from Hamilton and Vettel. The cars have 6 minutes to set a time before the eliminations start.
Rosberg initially led the way, with Hamilton then going a couple of tenths quicker on a1:24.6, over a second ahead of the Ferrari drivers. Perez went third, with Verstappen fifth. With the 90 second countdown already starting, Massa improved to third.
Palmer went 14th and Magnussen 15th, with the first elimination of the session being the Dane. The Renault was three seconds away from the leading pace, with Palmer the next to be eliminated.
With the first runs completed, many of the cars returned to the pits. Ferrari thought they were not safe and went out again, also with the Toro Rosso’s. Jenson Button was not able to get out in time, so he would stay in 13th place at McLaren, with Sainz next, but on track in the Toro Rosso. Ricciardo at the time in 11th was also on the circuit and improving, but Alonso in 10th wasn’t. Ricciardo improved to 4th for Red Bull, while the Toro Rosso went over the line 4th.
Alonso didn’t go out again for McLaren, much like his team mate, so he would stay 12th.
Hulkenberg was the next car in danger, but only went 10th which is still not safe for the session, dropping Bottas into the immediate danger. The Finn didn’t improve after a scruffy end to the lap, with the Williams driver starting 11th. With the next driver in danger Hulkenberg, he wouldn’t go on to do another lap so would stay 10th and his team mate not improving either in the pit lane in 9th.
Those who would leave in the second part of qualifying included Magnussen and Palmer for Renault, Button and Alonso for McLaren, Valtteri Bottas, and the two Force India’s – Hulkenberg and Perez.
With the final session now 14 minutes, all the drivers went onto the circuit straight away in the final part of qualifying. Rosberg was once again at the head of the field with Vettel following his fellow German. Vettel had a very fast middle sector. It was only a 1:25.2 for Rosberg. Vettel was six tenths faster with Hamilton going a half a second quicker. The order at the front being Hamilton, Vettel, Raikkonen and Rosberg. Ricciardo went fifth in the Red Bull, with Massa deposing him. Sainz went a little faster than Ricciardo, with Verstappen going faster than Massa in 5th.
Ricciardo would be the first to be dropped out in the final part of qualifying and starting in 8th place for Red Bull at his home race. Sainz would be the next to be eliminated in the Toro Rosso after heading back to the pits. Massa would also drop out after not being able to get back out in time, so he would be starting sixth and Verstappen doing the same in fifth.
That would leave the two Mercedes drivers and the two Ferrari’s. Raikkonen was told over the radio that they were not planning to go out again, while the two Mercedes were on the circuit for another go.
Rosberg was slightly slower than Hamilton on his final lap, less than a tenth, with Hamilton going on to set another fastest lap by three tenths of a second. The session coming to a close with four minutes remaining.
The order being – Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Massa, Sainz and Ricciardo.