SHANGHAI: Germany's Nico Rosberg rocketed to the first pole position of his Formula One career at the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday in what will be an all-Mercedes front row with team mate Michael Schumacher alongside him.
Schumacher, the seven times champion whose 91st and last win came in Shanghai with Ferrari in 2006, qualified in third place but will move up to second because McLaren's Lewis Hamilton takes a five place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.
The pole was the first for Mercedes with their own works team since the late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio at the 1955 Italian Grand Prix.
Mercedes left the sport that same year and, despite considerable success as McLaren's engine partner, only returned under their own name in 2010 after they bought the 2009 Mercedes-powered champions Brawn GP team.
“It's a great feeling, fantastic,” beamed Rosberg, son of Finland's 1982 world champion Keke, whose pole came at the 111th attempt.
His only previous front row appearance was in Malaysia in 2010 But this time he was so confident of the pole that he was in the pitlane and out of the car while others were still trying in vain to beat him.
“For the whole team it's a special moment.”
The German swept to the top slot by a massive margin, with a best lap of one minute 35.121 seconds compared to Hamilton's 1:35.626.
Hamilton, the 2008 champion and last year's winner in Shanghai, had been on pole in the two previous races of the season with McLaren sweeping the front row in both Australia and Malaysia.
“Congratulations to Nico, it's fantastic,” said Hamilton, genuinely pleased for a friend who was a team mate in the junior series in 2000.
“I am very proud of him. We grew up together, racing together and always dreamed of being in Formula One.”
Schumacher, who holds the Formula One record of 68 career poles, also congratulated his compatriot.
“I said 'well done' because that was a phenomenal lap time,” said the 43-year-old. “It's a bit of a surprise but there you go. He's known as a good qualifier...I am happy for him.”
VETTEL ELEVENTH On a day when the focus returned to the track after a build-up dominated by talk of next week's controversial fourth round in Bahrain, double world champion Sebastian Vettel produced another shock.
The Red Bull driver qualified only 11th, his worst performance in qualifying since he became champion and lowest grid position since Brazil in 2009, 42 races ago.
Despite the setback, the 24-year-old managed to make light of the situation and said he had been happy with the car's handling even if it was not quick enough.
“I don't want to blame today's result on any packaging. Mark was faster, full stop,” Vettel said, having chosen to use a different exhaust specification to Australian team mate Mark Webber, who will start sixth.
“I'm number 11. I have also two ones, two firsts, but it's one and one which makes 11,” said the driver who dominated last season with 11 wins and the repeated sight of a raised single digit for first place.
Sauber's Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi produced the best qualifying result of his career with third on the grid while Finland's 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen was fourth for Lotus.
McLaren's Jenson Button lines up with Webber on the third row. Ferrari's championship leader Fernando Alonso starts ninth.
“In the race normally we improve on Sunday the pace, but it is true also that behind us on the grid there are people who are quicker than us, like (Lotus's Romain) Grosjean and Vettel,” said the Spaniard.