THIRD TIME LUCKY: Mercedes' Nico Rosberg looks to extend his championship lead with another win at the Chinese GP after bagging another pole. Image: AFP / Johannes Eisele
Shanghai - Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg captured pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix while team mate Lewis Hamilton made an early exit from Saturday's qualifying due to an engine problem and will start at the back of the field for Sunday's race.
Rosberg, who won the season's opening two races, set a time of 1min35.402 seconds despite using a harder tire than his rivals and qualified a half-second ahead of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo in a surprise second place.
Ferrari on row 2
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel qualified third and fourth respectively after misjudging the final hairpin turn on their last laps.
Hamilton had problems with his engine early in the first segment of qualifying and although he was brought in for repairs and sent back out, the problem was not remedied and he couldn't set a timed lap.
After climbing out of the car in the garage, Hamilton, the two-time defending champion in Shanghai, told Sky Sports it was an "unfortunate" situation but he would still try to make a race of it on Sunday.
Hamilton said: "You can overtake here (in Shanghai). Of course I'll give it everything I've got to try and get up. It isn't over until it's over."
The last time Hamilton started this far back on the grid was at the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix when he qualified last after his engine caught fire.
His team mate, Rosberg, has been on a roll of late, capturing the first two races of the 2016 F1 season and five straight dating to last season.
"I'm not ecstatic because, of course, Lewis had bad luck and his car broke down so the fight (with him) didn't happen," Rosberg said. "But anyway, I'm pleased."
It was an eventful qualifying day from the start when Manor driver Pascal Wehrlein hit a bump and lost control in a wet patch just three minutes into the first segment, skidding off the circuit and slamming into the barrier.
He walked away uninjured but the red flag came out for 20 minutes as his car was removed and officials dried the track.
Then, at the end of the second segment, Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg's front left tire came loose and popped off the car and rolled across the grass. Another red flag was shown, ending the session a minute early as both McLaren drivers were making a final flying lap to try to advance to the third qualifying segment.
Formula 1 reverted to 2015's qualifying format at the Chinese Grand Prix after experimenting with a new rolling-elimination system for the first two races of the season that proved unpopular with both drivers and fans.
Some fans in Shanghai showed their appreciation for the change, hanging a giant banner from the stands that read, "#Finally 'Real' Qualifying is Back."
2016 Chinese GP Qualifying results
1. Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes 1:35.402
2. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1:35.917
3. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari 1:35.972
4. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari 1:36.246
5. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams-Mercedes 1:36.296
6. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1:36.399
7. Sergio Perez (MEX) Force India-Mercedes 1:36.865
8. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:36.881
9. Max Verstappen (NED) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:37.194
10. Nico Hlkenberg (GER) Force India-Mercedes
1. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari 1:36.118 (Q)
2. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari 1:36.183 (Q)
3. Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes 1:36.240 (Q)
4. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1:36.815 (Q)
5. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams-Mercedes 1:36.831 (Q)
6. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1:36.948 (Q)
7. Sergio Perez (MEX) Force India-Mercedes 1:37.149 (Q)
8. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:37.204 (Q)
9. Max Verstappen (NED) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:37.265 (Q)
10. Nico Hlkenberg (GER) Force India-Mercedes 1:37.333 (Q)
11. Felipe Massa (BRA) Williams-Mercedes 1:37.347
12. Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren-Honda 1:38.826
13. Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren-Honda 1:39.093
14. Romain Grosjean (FRA) Haas-Ferrari 1:39.830
15. Marcus Ericsson (SWE) Sauber-Ferrari 1:40.742
16. Felipe Nasr (BRA) Sauber-Ferrari 1:42.430
1. Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari 1:37.001 (Q)
2. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari 1:37.347 (Q)
3. Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams-Mercedes 1:37.537 (Q)
4. Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren-Honda 1:37.593 (Q)
5. Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:37.656 (Q)
6. Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes 1:37.669 (Q)
7. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1:37.672 (Q)
8. Daniil Kvyat (RUS) Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1:37.719 (Q)
9. Felipe Massa (BRA) Williams-Mercedes 1:38.016 (Q)
10. Sergio Perez (MEX) Force India-Mercedes 1:38.096 (Q)
11. Nico Hlkenberg (GER) Force India-Mercedes 1:38.165 (Q)
12. Max Verstappen (NED) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:38.181 (Q)
13. Marcus Ericsson (SWE) Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.321 (Q)
14. Romain Grosjean (FRA) Haas-Ferrari 1:38.425 (Q)
15. Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren-Honda 1:38.451 (Q)
16. Felipe Nasr (BRA) Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.654 (Q)
17. Kevin Magnussen (DEN) Renault 1:38.673
18. Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Haas-Ferrari 1:38.770
19. Jolyon Palmer (GBR) Renault 1:39.528
20. Rio Haryanto (INA) Manor-Mercedes 1:40.264
21. Pascal Wehrlein (GER) Manor-Mercedes
22. Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes