March 15th, 2014 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Mercedes delivered on the promise of their pre-season form by dominating qualifying for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix. Despite most of qualifying taking place in less than ideal weather conditions, both Silver Arrows drivers were able to deliver strong performances which saw them end up on pole (Hamilton) and in third on the grid (Rosberg). Hamilton's pole position is his 32nd, which equals the tally of Nigel Mansell, and the 100th for a Mercedes powered car in Formula One.
The pace of Rosberg in the morning FP3 session suggested that qualifying could be a walk in the park for Mercedes. However, the weather had other ideas, and the rain came down during Q1 and continued through to the end of Q3. That meant that all of the team's careful dry testing work went more or less out the window, as the drivers had to push hard on wet tyres in their new cars - something they had not yet done at all this year.
But in the end Mercedes proved more than a match for the challenge of wet qualifying. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were always at or near the top of the time sheets and had few challengers. When he crossed the line to finish his final Q3 lap, Rosberg was on provisional pole, but his time was beaten twice in the dying seconds of the session as the track got quicker and quicker. First Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo delighted his home fans by beating Rosberg's time, and then Lewis Hamilton came through with a last gasp lap that deposed the home hero to second on the grid.
Although the rain did level the playing field a bit, it has been clear throughout the weekend that the Mercedes is the quickest car in the field. But the race is by no means a foregone conclusion. Both Mercedes drivers have struggled with tyre wear on Friday and Saturday, and both have found it a challenge to match their fuel consumption targets. Add to that the as yet fairly unanswered question of reliability and anything is possible in Sunday's race. However, Mercedes will be starting from an almost perfect position and are firm favourites to start 2014 with a Grand Prix victory.
This is what the drivers had to say after qualifying:
Lewis Hamilton: It's been an interesting weekend so far here in Melbourne. Qualifying was a lot harder for everyone with the tricky conditions and it was a real challenge out there today. We were on the edge with the tyres and it was difficult to know which way to go at times. It's the first time I've driven the car on the limit in the wet, but it felt great and I'm so happy with the job the team has done.
To be on pole here today is a fantastic result for us. It was great fun and I'm really looking forward to the race tomorrow. It's going to be tough, but we'll do our best and see what happens. I am very proud to have scored pole number 100 for Mercedes-Benz in Formula One. I have only driven with Mercedes power since my debut in 2007 and the whole Mercedes team has done an incredible job meeting the challenge of these new rules. It's just as special to equal Nigel's record of pole positions for a British driver. I owe it to the great people I've worked with throughout my career.
Nico Rosberg: That was a really tricky qualifying session out there this evening. Starting from third place on the grid is not the optimum but okay for me. I know that I have a good race car and that makes me quite confident. With a good start, I should have a nice chance of scoring a strong result. It will be a very interesting race because fuel consumption and tyre wear will be on the edge. So there might be some surprises tomorrow.