Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton (L) of Britain shakes hands with his teammate Nico Rosberg of Germany at the qualifying session of the Spanish F1 Grand Prix at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit in Montmelo May 10, 2014. Photo by Albert Gea, Reuters.
BARCELONA - Championship leader Nico Rosberg declared Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix to be game on and with everything to play for despite Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton pulling out an ace in qualifying.
In the battle of the minds between Formula One's runaway title contenders, Hamilton landed another big psychological blow at the Circuit de Catalunya.
The Briton's fourth pole in five races left him perfectly placed to take a fourth win in a row and seize the overall lead from Rosberg, who had been fastest in final practice at a circuit that saw him beat everyone in qualifying last year.
"I don't particularly enjoy coming second to Lewis. I am of course disappointed but in the end it was a good lap from me, so Lewis just did a better job and that's just the way it is," declared Rosberg.
"Anyway, it's still all to play for tomorrow... all it takes is a good start tomorrow and then I'm in the lead again."
Hamilton's pole will still have stung, with the German well aware that the Circuit de Catalunya is not a track that has favoured the 2008 champion in the past.
"Obviously it gives him momentum and momentum is a part of the sport," said Rosberg, winner of the season-opening race in Australia and second in the rest, of Saturday's setback.
"The mental is part of it and that does give the momentum. I just need to stay on it, stay strong - which I am - keep pushing and try and turn it around to my favour."
Hamilton also rubbed a little salt in the wounds by emphasising how he had been wrestling with the car's handling and how much faster he might have gone.
"I lost a bit of pace today, so I'm really even happier knowing that I dropped a bit of pace but was able to get back at the front," he said.
Hamilton had been fastest in Friday practice but a few very minor tweaks, just half a millimetre here and there, made overnight to improve the car had the opposite effect.
He was heard on the radio during the first phase of qualifying complaining that they had made the car worse and there was little he could do about it.
"In Q1 you saw I was half a second off Nico, just struggling to put a lap together. But at the end I just did it by the skin of my teeth," he said.
In China last month, Hamilton dominated all the way through qualifying and he said Saturday's pole was perhaps more satisfying.
"When you've been on the back foot and clearly your team mate's got the upper hand but you manage to pull out an ace card just for that last lap, it's a great feeling," he said.
"But still deep in the back of your mind you know 'I wasn't quick enough today'."
In Bahrain, the third round of the season, Hamilton and Rosberg duelled for the lead in the most thrilling race of the campaign so far.
While neutral spectators hoped for a repeat of that wheel-banging scrap on Sunday, Hamilton said he would do his best to prevent that from happening.
"I am ready for whatever but we're going to work as hard as we can to make sure that is not the case," he smiled. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)