The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton will start on Pole tomorrow for the Chinese Grand Prix after edging out Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel.
After disrupted running on Friday Mercedes, who have held the pole positon for the Chinese Grand Prix since 2012, looked to be in serious threat of losing that streak as the Ferrari led the way in all of Saturday’s sessions before Hamilton upped the ante in Q3. Despite Ferrari topping the first two qualifying sessions Hamilton produced a scintillating record lap of 1:31.678 to edge Vettel into second place. While Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas came to within 0.001 seconds, the equivalent of 5.9cm of track distance, of beating Vettel as well. The result has prompted many, including Hamilton himself, to admit that there really is a fight once again for Qualifying on a Saturday that we haven’t really seen in the turbo hybrid era.
“The Ferraris have looked so fast,” said Hamilton in the press conference. “We knew it was going to be close and we had to pull out all the stops. I manage to chip away at it. It’s more exciting than ever for me because we are really fighting these guys. That’s what racing is all about and it pushes you on.”
The sister Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen was a relatively distant fourth today. After setting an all time lap record in Q2, that Hamilton then broke, in the top ten shootout Raikkonen complained of the car feeling unbalanced. Despite the team trying to fix it, he failed to break into the top three. However he can take solace in the fact he was almost a second quicker than fifth placed Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo, much like Raikkonen was in isolation on the time sheets. Not anywhere close to the Ferraris and Mercedes, but clearly ahead of the midfield pack, headed by the Williams of Felipe Massa once again. The Brazilian drove to sixth place once again, on what was a positive qualifying session once again for the veteran driver. Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg showed there was real pace in that car to qualify seventh, while his former team mate at Force India Sergio Perez lines up next to him in eighth. Daniil Kvyat won the battle of the Toro Rossos to qualify ninth, as Carlos Sainz just missed out on the top 10 along with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen. The final place in the top ten went to 18-year-old Williams rookie Lance Stroll. After a difficult debut in Australia the teen looked more at home in the car this weekend, though he was still almost a second adrift of his team mate in sixth.
The big shock of the session was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen failing to make it out of Q1, qualifying 19th for the race tomorrow. His lap times were compromised by an engine software problem resulting in him being down on power, leaving him towards the foot of the timesheet and unable to prolong his qualifying session. He was already really struggling for pace when Sauber’s super sub Antonio Giovinazzi crashed heavily on Shanghai’s pit straight in the last dying moments of Q1, bringing the session to an abrupt end. The result was several drivers had to bail out of their flying lap. Including the Haas of Romain Grosjean, The Renault of Jolyon Palmer and the Force India of Esteban Ocon. They joined Verstappen and the McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne on the side lines, failing to get out of Q1 too. Palmer and Grosjean were later handed five-place grid penalties and three penalty points for failing to slow under double yellow flags following Giovinazzi’s crash.
That wasn’t the end of the session though for McLaren, as Fernando Alonso was able to get into Q2 for the team, albeit to 13th place with the two Sauber’s behind him. “I’m pushing like an animal,” said Alonso over team radio as he defied his own post-Australia prediction that McLaren would be “last and second last” on a more typical race circuit such as Shanghai. The McLaren is clearly down on power, and this shows especially on the long back straight. But with a wet race predicted for tomorrow, this could be the kind of opportunity Alonso needs to show off the McLaren.
Chinese Grand Prix Qualifying results
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:31.678
2. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, + 0.186
3. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, + 0.187
4. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, + 0.462
5. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, + 1.355
6. Felipe Massa, Williams, + 1.829
7. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, + 1.902
8. Sergio Perez, Force India, + 2.028
9. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, + 2.041
10. Lance Stroll, Williams, + 2.542
11. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:34.150
12. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, 1:34.164
13. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 1:34.372
15. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:35.046
16. Antonio Giovinazzi, Sauber, No time set
16. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, 1:35.023
17. Romain Grosjean, Haas 1:35.223*
18. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, 1:35.279*
19. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:35.433
20. Esteban Ocon, Force India, 1:35.496
*Receives five-place grid penalty
Feature Image Credit: Force India F1 Team press release