x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Rosberg blames tyre for poor placement

The Mercedes GP driver, who is seventh in the championship standings, was third-fastest in the second part of qualifying but dropped pace after switching from Prime to Option tyre.

ABU DHABI // Nico Rosberg blamed an inability to get the best out of the Option tyre in yesterday's qualifying session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix for his ninth place on the grid for today's race.

The Mercedes GP driver, who is seventh in the championship standings, was third-fastest in the second part of qualifying when he used the harder Prime tyre, running within a couple of tenths of Sebastian Vettel, the Red Bull-Renault driver who would go on to take pole.

But his pace dropped in the final session, which decided the top 10 on the grid, as he struggled for grip on the softer compound. His final lap time of 1min 40.589secs ended up being 1.2secs off Vettel's pole lap, and was also half-a-second slower than his best time in the second session.

"The speed was there today," he said. "However, unfortunately, only on the hard tyre. So it's disappointing to be starting from ninth place on the grid.

"For our race strategy, I had to run the options in Q3 and I just struggled with them all the way through qualifying."

The German has had a strong season despite yesterday's disappointment, finishing on the podium three times. He is optimistic that Ross Brawn, the Mercedes team principal, and his engineers will find a step forward in pace with their 2011 car design that will allow them to fight with Red Bull-Renault, Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes at the front.

"I know everyone is working hard and I am sure there will be a step forward," he said.

"Whether it is enough I don't know but we want to be in a position where we can fight for race victories."

Rosberg has had the better of Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion, for much of the season, but his teammate had the upper hand yesterday as he qualified one spot ahead of him in eighth.

Schumacher, who had shown good pace in practice, was not content and believed that a top-six position could have been his with a clean lap.

"I didn't have the best last lap in Q3 today, unfortunately, as I didn't quite get the sectors together," he said. "That was a shame because I could have ended up one or even two positions higher. However, this gives me room to improve for tomorrow and that will be my target for the race."

Schumacher, like Rosberg, was unhappy with his car's performance on the softer tyres, but Brawn believes that their consistent pace on the harder compound will see them produce a stronger performance during the race.

"We were much better on the prime tyre with both Nico and Michael struggling on the option in Q3," he said. "This gives us reason to be optimistic in the race tomorrow when we should be on the right strategy."

gcaygill@thenational.ae