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Rosberg take China pole as rivals falter

NEWS STORY
16/04/2016

On the evidence thus far it would take a very special fortune cookie to predict what the outcome might be this afternoon, far less tomorrow.

Yesterday's opening session was compromised by red flags following the suspension and bodywork issues encountered by Kevin Magnussen and Felipe Massa, whilst this morning's session was held in the wet. Indeed, only 14 drivers opted to post times this morning.

With further rain forecast this afternoon, but a dry race, the teams are in a difficult predicament, especially Mercedes where Lewis Hamilton has already incurred a 5-place grid penalty after his team opted to change his gearbox.

Nico Rosberg was quickest in FP1, Kimi Raikkonen in FP2 and Sebastian Vettel in this morning's wet session, so all in all a pretty mixed bag.

Ahead of today's qualifying session the air temperature is 22 degrees and the track temperature 24 degrees, and whilst it has stopped raining and the sun is slowly breaking through, we are assured it will rain again, though currently it is said the threat is only 30%.

Despite the uncertainty over the weather and pecking order, one thing we can be sure of is that after the shambles that was Melbourne and Bahrain, we have the old (2015) qualifying format back and we will be keeping it for the remainder of the season.

Of course, the fact that it isn't currently raining, only threatening, further adds to the pressure on the teams, as there was little meaningful preparation in FP3 and tomorrow's race is almost certain to be dry, so essentially anything can happen. And probably will.

Tyre options are supersoft, soft and medium, the softest compound making its debut here. Whilst the supers will be the go-to tyres for Q3 for those who do qualify at the front of the grid this will mean stopping as early as lap 5 tomorrow.

The lights go green and Hamilton leads the way, followed by Haryanto, Rosberg, Button and Gutierrez. All but the Manor driver on Inters, the Indonesian on supers.

"The track is dry, so far," reports Hamilton.

Palmer and Magnussen head down the pitlane on softs.

As the Manor duo, both on supers, trade fastest sectors, Wehrlein comes to grief, the German losing the Manor as he exits the final corner.

"Sorry guys, that it," he apologises. "No chance to do anything."

The session is red flagged.

Replay shows Wehrlein coming out of the final and heading down the pit straight. He runs a little wide on the exit but then loses the car after hitting a bump on the straight, which is quite damp. The German, who was using DRS at the time, spins, slides across he track and clouts the barriers.

"Just to conclude, the circuit is completely dry," says Vettel, other than a couple of wet patches, which are negligible."

Before Wehrlein's off, a number of other drivers were on the supers, it will be interesting to see the tyre choice once the session resumes.

An official vehicle is sent to the scene of the incident - where the car has been lifted on to the back of a tow truck - to see if the track can be dried a little quicker.

Race Control announces that the session will resume at 15:25.

The lights go green (again) and Gutierrez leads the way, the Mexican on supers. He is followed by Button who is also on the red-banded rubber.

Gutierrez crosses the line at 1:40.262 but Alonso is on a hot lap, having posted purples in the first two sectors. However, it is teammate Button who is quickest, the Briton posting 38.324 and the Spaniard 38.451.

In the Mercedes garage, lots of work going on on Hamilton's car, the Briton thought to have an engine issue.

Grosjean goes third (39.529), ahead of Ericsson, Palmer, Nasr and Gutierrez.

"There's a car parked at the entrance to the pits," warns Button, "if anyone goes off they're going to hit it." Said vehicle, ironically, being a rescue vehicle.

With just under six minutes remaining, the big guns come out to play.

Rosberg posts 37.669 to go quickest, just 0.655s ahead of Button.

Raikkonen goes quickest in S1, but his time is subsequently eclipsed by Ricciardo. And then Vettel goes quickest in S1.

Hamilton heads back to the pits having failed to post a time, the Briton thought to have a hybrid issue.

Raikkonen posts 37.347 to go quickest, whilst countryman Bottas goes second (37.537). However, moments later Vettel posts 37.001.

Replay shows Hamilton being forced wide on his return to the pits, the Mercedes driver's life made all the more difficult by Verstappen.

"We're looking for a Eureka moment," Hamilton is told. With the clock still s=ticking it's not looking good.

Ricciardo goes sixth (37.672) and teammate Kvyat seventh.

As Hamilton looks to have missed the cut, along with Wehrlein, the Lotus duo and Haryanto look likely to join him at the back of the grid.

That said, Palmer improves to seventeenth, dropping Nasr into the danger zone.

Magnussen improves to sixteenth, and Nasr fifteenth, as attention focusses on Ericsson. The Swede posts a mighty 38.321 to go 13th, which eliminates the Renault duo.

Quickest was Vettel, ahead of Raikkonen, Bottas, Button, Sainz, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Massa and Perez.

We lose Magnussen, Gutierrez, Palmer, Haryanto, Wehrlein and Hamilton.

"It's unfortunate," says Hamilton, "but these things happen. I'll give it everything I've got."

Check out our Saturday gallery, here.

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