Nico Rosberg will start from pole position for the 2015 United States Grand Prix after a truncated waterlogged qualifying session.
Race control elected to cancel the final session, Q3, in light of worsening weather, setting the bottom five positions of the grid based on Q3 and the rest of the field using the Q2 classification.
Nico Rosberg’s pole lap was set early in Q2, when conditions were at their kindest, but said he felt good in the car despite the treacherous weather and standing water.
“It’s been a really good qualifying, I felt comfortable in the car,” said the German. “It’s difficult out there with the aquaplaning because when it happens it’s difficult to have control of the car.”
Rosberg is battling for his already slender title ambitions, and needs to prevent teammate Lewis Hamilton from outscoring him by two points to go at least another round.
“Win for sure, very badly,” he said. “But as for the race I have no idea — it was supposed to be frying out, but it really doesn’t look like it out there. Our car is great in any condition, so whatever is fine, really.”
Hamilton will start alongside Rosberg — or more likely behind him and the safety car — and was similarly relaxed about his prospects for the race.
“It was generally a good qualifying,” he said. “It was lots of fun out there.
“It was a bit of an anticlimax in the end, but still happy with a one-two for the team, and it’s good for the fans to be able to see the cars run.”
Daniel Ricciardo looked quick throughout qualifying, and the Australian set the fastest time of Q1 before succumbing to the irresistible inherent pace of the Mercedes cars in Q2.
He put his Red Bull in third, but admitted all is to play for during the race later in the day.
“We were quite comfortable,” said Ricciardo of Q1, “but then in Q2 there was a little bit more water on the track, and it seemed we struggled a bit more compared to the Mercs.
“Third is not bad, I think it puts us in a good place for the race. It’s a good opportunity for us today to try to capitalise on it.
“I don’t know what the weather’s going to do, but I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.”
Daniel Ricciardo will share the second row with teammate Daniil Kvyat, the Russian setting a time 0.5 seconds slower than the Australian.
Sebastian Vettel set the fifth-quickest time of the session, but he will start from P15 when he takes his 10-place grid penalty for installing a fifth power unit, one more than the four-unit limit for 2014.
Sergio Perez led teammate Nico Hülkenberg in sixth and seventh, before Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen, who will also take a 10-place penalty, in eighth.
Felipe Massa and Max Verstappen qualified ninth and tenth.
The rain stayed away for most of qualifying two, and accepted strategic wisdom was to send the cars out to circulate and wait for the driest window in which to set a quick time.
The rain intensified in the final ten minutes, however, preventing times from improving and putting track conditions into what many drivers described as being in red flag territory.
Fernando Alonso took McLaren all the way to P11 during the session, but missed out on a Q3 berth by less than a tenth of a second.
Valtteri Bottas couldn’t pull his Williams into the top ten, struggling as he was with his car’s renowned wet condition struggles.
Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado in the Lotus cars were split by the McLaren of Jenson Button in positions P13, P14, and P15 when the session became too difficult to drive.
The opening 18 minutes of qualifying were conducted on a knife-edge, with conditions scarcely better than they were early on Saturday during the treacherous free practice three session.
Carlos Sainz was bitten hard early, losing his car in the first sector and wiping is car across the barrier, temporarily red-flagging the session.
Teams were concerned that rain would intensify before the first part of qualifying ended, and thus all drivers took to the circuit in an attempt to set a time in the event Q2 and Q3 couldn’t take place, in which case the grid would be set according to the Q1 classification.
Lewis Hamilton was an early stand-out, with the Briton’s famous wet-weather skills standing him in good stead against his teammate, but even he was shown up by Daniel Ricciardo in a downforce-laden Red Bull Racing, who ultimately topped the first session.
Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr couldn’t get their Saubers out of the bottom five, qualifying ahead of the two Manor cars, with American Alexander Rossi leading Will Stevens. Carlos Sainz, his best time set at the start of the session when the circuit was at its worst, qualified last.