GRANOLLERS, Spain (AP) — Nico Rosberg will go for his first win of the season from pole position at the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday after finally ending teammate Lewis Hamilton’s run of four consecutive poles in qualifying.
Rosberg, runner-up to Hamilton in Formula One last year, had the fastest time in two of the three practice sessions, and carried that form with a dynamic drive in qualifying. The German finished 0.267 seconds clear of Hamilton, and 0.777 ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
“Awesome, thanks guys” Rosberg told his Mercedes team over the race radio. He gave both thumbs up as he climbed out of his car.
His previous pole came at the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP last year. His last victory came at the previous race, the Brazilian GP, where he started from pole.
“Psychologically, it feels great. Starting with the car I have I will be trying for the win for sure,” said Rosberg, who will try for a ninth career race victory. “Strategy is going to be important. Overtaking is more difficult on this track, so starting in front is a particularly big advantage.”
Hamilton leads Rosberg by 27 points, and Vettel by 28 in the overall standings. But a strong performance here and in two weeks’ time in Monaco would get Rosberg back firmly in contention, especially on tracks where overtaking is notoriously tough.
Of the past 24 races at the Catalunya track, 18 have been won from pole — a fact not lost on Hamilton, who took the victory here last year after starting up front.
“It is very, very difficult to overtake, as it has been shown over the years,” the two-time F1 champion said. “Nico did a great job.”
However, with more than 700 meters until the first turn, Hamilton can get ahead of Rosberg if he makes a strong start.
“It’s really about getting down the inside off the line,” said Hamilton, who had problems with the rear balance of his car during practice and qualifying. “We have the exact same clutches so naturally we should have the same start. If I’m fresher and have a slightly better reaction (time), it might make a difference.”
Rosberg drove aggressively from the outset, even beating Hamilton’s pole position time from last year in the third practice run. He was keen to make amends for the Bahrain GP three weeks ago, when by his own admission he drove too conservatively in qualifying to protect his tires, and ended up third on the grid behind Vettel and Hamilton.
“For sure, Bahrain was still in my mind,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t make that mistake again. I just got myself into a rhythm and it worked out well.”
Vettel, who beat Hamilton in Malaysia, will need a strong performance to challenge the Mercedes cars on Sunday.
“We would have loved to be a little closer,” Vettel said. “I hope it will be better in the race.”
The last Spanish driver to win here was Fernando Alonso two years ago, and he has all but no chance of even a podium after qualifying down in 13th ahead of McLaren teammate Jenson Button.
McLaren, which has struggled since switching to Honda engines, has not scored a point yet this season, with Alonso’s best a meager 11th place in Bahrain.
But home fans still had something to cheer about with Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz Jr. — the son of two-time world rally champion Carlos Sainz — qualifying in fifth place behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas, and ahead of his Toro Rosso teammate Max Verstappen.
The 17-year-old Verstappen starts ahead of 35-year-old Kimi Raikkonen, who was seventh for Ferrari.
“Today, I was still struggling, for some reason my car was sliding around,” Raikkonen said. “I had not much grip and did a bad lap. It’s one of those weekends in which things keep going a little bit wrong here and there, and today we also lost one set of medium tires because of a burning of a blanket.”
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.