Mercedes’s Nico Rosberg took pole position for the second time in his Formula One career in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The German, who won from his previous pole in China last year, was 0.254 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull, with the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso a further 0.083s back.
Though Rosberg’s teammate Lewis Hamilton qualified fourth and Mark Webber’s Red Bull fifth, the pair both received grid penalties.
Hamilton will be demoted five places after a gearbox change and Webber three spots for his incident with Jean-Eric Vergne last week in Shanghai. Those punishments mean that Felipe Massa moves up to fourth, ahead of the impressive Force India duo of Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil.
Kimi Raikkonen was a disappointing eighth after having gone well in practice, while Jenson Button failed to set a time in Q3 after just having scraped through as the McLaren again struggled.
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Despite a jubilant day for Rosberg, the German is well aware that the Mercedes faces an uphill battle to stay in front on Sunday due to the Mercedes’ issues with tire degradation.
“For the first time this season everything went perfectly today and that's a great feeling,” he said, according to the official Formula One website.
“The race tomorrow is a different story and we're very aware of that. It will be difficult, especially with the rear tires, and we know that other teams were stronger than us on the long runs on Friday. It will be a big challenge to stay ahead but starting from the front helps.”
Second-placed Vettel feels he is well-placed to claim his second win of the season and extend his lead atop the drivers’ championship.
“I’m not disappointed with that,” he said. “We managed to save some tires throughout qualifying and it will be about tire degradation tomorrow, so we’ll see what happens. It’s good to start from the front.”
Another championship contender, Alonso, was also confident that the tire situation could work in his favor during the race.
“This is now the third time this year that we end up in the top three and, even if usually Sunday goes better thanks to our race pace, I am really pleased to see our potential already maximized on Saturday,” he explained.
“I think the best tire for the race will be the hard and that could work in our favor, given it’s the one we have been most comfortable on all weekend.”
Where to watch: The Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix will get underway at 8 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the NBC Sports Network, with a live stream available on NBCSports.com.