Lewis Hamilton was full of congratulations for Nico Rosberg this evening after the German claimed his first F1 pole position with an excellent qualifying lap today in Shanghai.
The McLaren driver would be joining his friend on the front row of the grid for tomorrow’s race, but for a five-place grid penalty handed out when he had to have his gearbox replaced this morning.
Hamilton, who qualified second, will actually start the race from seventh place, two behind team-mate Jenson Button.
“Very big congratulations to Nico today,” said the 2008 world champion. “We first met back in 1997 and were team-mates in 2000. We've been good friends ever since. When we were team-mates, we always dreamed of qualifying first and second together in Formula 1 – and it's crazy that we did that today.
“Looking at the race, we've got a good car but I'm going to have to work my way up through the field tomorrow. But as long as I move forward in the race, I'll be happy.
“I've set my car up to be at its strongest in the race. So, although Jenson and I are a little bit further back than we'd like, and we've got a bit of work to do, we can still make it. There's a good group of drivers ahead of us on the grid, but we're right with them in terms of race pace. This is a track where you can overtake, and we've got DRS too – so I'm massively excited about tomorrow.”
Button is also also aiming for victory tomorrow from his starting position of fifth on the grid. He is particularly aware of Kamui Kobayashi who will be a bit of an unknown quanitity starting from a career-best of third on the grid.
“In Q1, we went out on the softer tyre and put a lap on it when most of the other teams didn't,” said the Brit, trying to analyse where his problems lay in qualifying today. “In Q2, I felt I had too much understeer, so we made a few adjustments for Q3. However, I could feel the temperature dropping in that final session: I think we just went out a little too late.
“Of course, that's a little bit disappointing, but our race pace seems to be very good. It's going to be tricky to get heat into the front tyres if it's cold tomorrow though – but then that's not unusual for me. But that's the way it is and I hope we can have a good race from fifth on the grid.
“Our aim will be to go for victory. That won't be easy, but we ought to be as quick or quicker than most of the cars in front of us in the race. The unusual one is Kamui, who seems to have very good long-run pace.”
McLaren team prinicpal Martin Whitmarsh is, as ever, confident that his drivers’ skills will promote them up the field on race day and bring home a good result. He also congratulated Rosberg on his achievement today.
“First of all, I'd like to offer our congratulations to Mercedes AMG, for whom Nico took his first ever Grand Prix pole position this afternoon,” said Whitmarsh.
“It was a peculiar qualifying session, in which the to-ing and fro-ing of grip levels was abnormally unpredictable. During Q3, the air and track temperatures cooled rapidly as the sky overhead became suddenly overcast, and the circuit became appreciably slower as a result. Nico, who had already cut a very good lap early in the session, was therefore unassailable. Jenson, who went out later, found that the track surface had become much less grippy than it had been beforehand, and the inevitable result was a slower-than-expected lap time from him.
“But that wasn't his fault; pretty much everyone who was on track at the end of Q3 either recorded a slower lap-time than they'd hoped for, or indeed aborted it, as Lewis did.
“Tomorrow, though, we're confident that we'll have two competitive race cars, and, from fifth and seventh on the grid respectively, Jenson and Lewis will be approaching the race with their customary controlled combativeness.”