Bottas achieves first victory by holding off Vettel

Valtteri Bottas fended off a late charge from four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel to secure his first Formula 1 victory in the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi.

The Mercedes driver crossed the line just 0.617 seconds ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari with Kimi Raikkonen taking his first podium of the season with third.

Lewis Hamilton finished a disappointing fourth position.

Bottas made a storming start from third on the grid, benefiting from a slow-starting Raikkonen and then passing Vettel on the run to Turn 2 to take the lead.

The race was then neutralised shortly after when the safety car was deployed following a collision between Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer at Turn 2.

At the restart, Bottas put the hammer down and gradually went about building up a lead over Vettel that grew to just over four seconds.

Bottas caught traffic ahead of the pitstops, allowing Vettel to cut the gap to 2.5 seconds before Mercedes called Bottas in at the end of lap 27 of 52 to swap ultra-softs for super-softs.

Vettel stayed out for an extra seven laps, with his pace remaining competitive, and rejoined just over four seconds adrift of Bottas following his stop for the super-softs.

Championship leader Vettel slowly chipped away at that, getting the gap down to just under a second at one stage to set up a grandstand finish.

But Bottas, who asked for “less talking” on the team radio in the closing laps, kept his composure to fend off Vettel and take his first victory in his 81st Formula 1 start.

Hamilton had a frustrating race, making a good start initially but struggling in the second phase of acceleration as he stayed in fourth.

The three-time world champion complained consistently that his car was overheating in the first half of the race and after the pit-stops, he was unable to catch Raikkonen and ended up a distant fourth position.

Max Verstappen was out on his own, too, in fifth, well adrift of the leading quartet but comfortably ahead of Sergio Perez.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo retired with an early rear brake problem.

Force India scored points with both cars for the fourth race in succession as Esteban Ocon took seventh behind team-mate Perez.

Nico Hulkenberg was eighth, with Felipe Massa on-course for sixth before he was forced to make a second pit-stop late on because of a slow puncture that dropped him to ninth.

Carlos Sainz completed the top ten.

Williams racer Lance Stroll finished his first race, just missing out on a point in P11 after a first-lap spin.

It was a miserable weekend for McLaren, with Fernando Alonso failing to start the race after stopping his car at the entry to the pits on the formation lap.

Honda suspects the loss of power was down to an ERS issue, but is still investigating.

The other McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne was P14, ahead of the two Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein.

So not a thrilling Russian Grand Prix, with a lack of overtaking. Valtteri Bottas takes a well deserved race victory and resisting the huge pressure from a four-time champion was impressive.

Russian Grand Prix race results, after 52 laps:

1    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    1h28m08.743s
2    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    0.617s
3    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    11.000s
4    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    36.320s
5    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    1m00.416s
6    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    1m26.788s
7    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    1m35.004s
8    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    1m36.188s
9    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    1 Lap
10    Carlos Sainz    Toro Rosso-Renault    1 Lap
11    Lance Stroll    Williams/Mercedes    1 Lap
12    Daniil Kvyat    Toro Rosso-Renault    1 Lap
13    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    1 Lap
14    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    1 Lap
15    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    1 Lap
16    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    1 Lap
–    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    Brakes
–    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    Collision
–    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    Not started
–    Jolyon Palmer    Renault    Collision

Drivers’ standings:

1    Sebastian Vettel    86
2    Lewis Hamilton    73
3    Valtteri Bottas    63
4    Kimi Raikkonen    49
5    Max Verstappen    35
6    Daniel Ricciardo    22
7    Sergio Perez    22
8    Felipe Massa    18
9    Carlos Sainz    11
10    Esteban Ocon    9
11    Nico Hulkenberg    6
12    Romain Grosjean    4
13    Kevin Magnussen    4
14    Daniil Kvyat    2
15    Pascal Wehrlein    0
16    Lance Stroll    0
17    Antonio Giovinazzi    0
18    Jolyon Palmer    0
19    Stoffel Vandoorne    0
20    Fernando Alonso    0
21    Marcus Ericsson    0

Constructors’ standings:

1    Mercedes    136
2    Ferrari    135
3    Red Bull-Renault    57
4    Force India-Mercedes    31
5    Williams-Mercedes    18
6    Toro Rosso-Renault    13
7    Haas-Ferrari    8
8    Renault    6
9    Sauber-Ferrari    0
10    McLaren/Honda    0

Vettel leads Ferrari front row lock out since 2008

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel claimed Scuderia Ferrari’s first pole position of the 2017 Formula 1 season, as both he and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen defeated the Mercedes drivers in a competitive Russian Grand Prix qualifying battle.

Ferrari had led the way throughout the three practice sessions, but trailed rival Mercedes through Q1 and Q2, when both Vettel and Raikkonen made an extra run compared to Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in the latter segment.

And yet Scuderia turned things around in Q3, when Raikkonen sat on provisional pole after the initial runs, just ahead of Bottas and Vettel, with Hamilton trailing in fourth position after twice snatching the inside front brake on his hot lap.

The Iceman looked set to claim his first pole since the French Grand Prix of 2008, which was coincidently the last race Ferrari locked out the front row, but went wide at the final corner on his last lap so failed to improve.

That allowed Sebastian to snatch pole by just 0.059 seconds with a last-gasp effort of one minute, 33.194 seconds.

Bottas also failed to find time on his final qualifying run, but his earlier lap was still good enough for third position on the grid, just 0.036 seconds adrift of Raikkonen – albeit slower than he went in Q2.

Hamilton’s first run in Q3 was compromised by a track position with Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault. Hamilton improved on his final run, but dropped a lot of time in the final sector and ended up almost half a second slower than his team-mate Bottas.

Daniel Ricciardo was fifth for Red Bull, but over a second slower than Hamilton, while Felipe Massa scored a sixth for Williams, just 0.051 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen.

Hulkenberg was eighth for Renault, just over a tenth further back, while the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon completed the top ten.

Both Force Indias made Q3 for the first time this season, with Ocon claiming the final spot in the top ten shootout by 0.219 seconds from the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz, who complained of a “very strange” lack of grip on his final set of tyres.

The Williams of Lance Stroll split Sainz from his Toro Rosso team-mate Daniil Kvyat, as all three drivers lapped within 0.020 seconds of each other.

Kevin Magnussen’s Haas was less than half a tenth further back inP14, well clear of the underpowered McLaren-Honda of Fernando Alonso, who maintained his remarkable record of getting McLaren-Honda into Q2 at every race so far this season.

Renault’s Jolyon Palmer missed the cut by less than a tenth, but had already failed to improve on his final run before crashing heavily at Turn 4 after clipping the inside kerb.

Stoffel Vandoorne, who will start last after a grid penalty, found time on his final run but it was nowhere near enough to escape Q1. His time was only P17 fastest and six tenths away from the Q2 cut off.

Pascal Wehrlein was P18 for Sauber and was lucky to survive a spin unscathed at Turn 13 at the end of Q1.

Team-mate Marcus Ericsson was just under two tenths further back, while Romain Grosjean’s Haas brought up the rear of the grid.

Grosjean struggled with the brakes and balance of his car throughout free practice, and was also unhappy at the start of qualifying, but was on a better lap before Palmer’s crash.

So a fantastic result for Ferrari after so many countless Grands Prix. An all-red front row thanks to the talent of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. It’s going to be interesting to see who will win the Scuderia battle on race day at Sochi. Game on.

Qualifying positions, Russian Grand Prix:

1    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    1m33.194s
2    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    1m33.253s
3    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    1m33.289s
4    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    1m33.767s
5    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    1m34.905s
6    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    1m35.110s
7    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    1m35.161s
8    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    1m35.285s
9    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    1m35.337s
10    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    1m35.430s
11    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    1m35.964s
12    Daniil Kvyat    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m35.968s
13    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    1m36.017s
14    Carlos Sainz    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m35.948s
15    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    1m36.660s
16    Jolyon Palmer    Renault    1m36.462s
17    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    1m37.332s
18    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    1m37.507s
19    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    1m37.620s
20    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    1m37.070s*

*Grid penalty for changing power unit

Vettel beats Hamilton to win in Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel claimed his second victory of the 2017 Formula 1 season in the Bahrain Grand Prix, assisted by a five-second time penalty for Lewis Hamilton.

The Ferrari driver crossed the finishing line 6.660 seconds ahead of Hamilton, who had slashed his advantage from twenty seconds after making his second pitstop, while pole sitter Valtteri Bottas had to settle with third.

Bottas held the lead at the start, with Vettel making a better getaway than Hamilton to draw alongside him on the run to the first corner and then sweep around the outside on turn-in to run second.

Vettel then pressured Bottas in the early laps, the Mercedes driver struggling for rear grip thanks to high rear tyre pressures caused by a faulty generator used to help set them on the grid, with Hamilton just behind and keeping the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo just behind him.

With Hamilton eventually slipping out of DRS range of Vettel, the Ferrari driver became the first of the frontrunners to stop on lap ten and committed to a two-stop strategy by taking a second set of super-softs.

Verstappen followed Vettel into the pits a lap later, but suffered a brake problem on his outlap and went off at Turn 4, his race ending in the barrier.

The safety car was deployed on lap 13, when Williams driver Lance Stroll was hit by Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso.

Sainz had just made his first pitstop, but closed rapidly under braking for Turn 1, hitting Stroll’s from the side as the Williams took the apex.

The contact put both out of the race, and triggered a series of pitstops that allowed Vettel to take the lead.

Mercedes had to pit both Bottas and Hamilton under the safety car, with both having slow stops lasting just over six seconds, and Ricciardo able to emerge from the pits between them.

Hamilton, who knew he would have to queue behind his Mercedes team-mate, slowed on the entry to the pitlane thereby delayed Ricciardo, leading to a stewards’ investigation and subsequent five-second penalty.

Vettel led from Bottas at the restart on lap 17, with Hamilton jumping Ricciardo for third on the run to the first corner, followed on the run to Turn 4 by Williams driver Felipe Massa.

Bottas, who opted for super-softs at his previous stop, made his second pitstop to take softs 13 laps later, emerging seventh behind Sergio Perez and quickly moving ahead of both the Force India and Massa to run fifth.

While Vettel gradually extended his lead to over six seconds from Bottas, Hamilton chased his team-mate before taking second place up the inside into Turn 1 on lap 27.

At that point, Vettel had a 6.3 seconds lead, but Hamilton had cut that advantage to just under four seconds when the Ferrari driver pitted for softs at the end of lap 33.

Vettel emerged from the pits in third place, 17 seconds behind Hamilton and three behind Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

Three laps later, Vettel passed a compliant Raikkonen. At that point, he was 15.5 seconds behind Hamilton on the road, but in real terms just 10.5 seconds thanks to Hamilton’s penalty.

Vettel had closed to just 9.5 seconds behind Hamilton on the road when the Mercedes driver made his second stop with 16 laps to go, including a five-second hold to serve the penalty, and returned to the track on soft rubber.

Hamilton re-emerged in third, 10.5 seconds behind second position Bottas, with Vettel twenty seconds clear, but with fresh softs he had a significant pace advantage of the two cars in front.

It took Hamilton just five laps to catch and pass Bottas, diving up the inside of his team-mate at Turn 13.

At that point, Vettel’s advantage was 13 seconds, and although Hamilton was able to lap faster than the Ferrari he never got within five seconds of the leader.

Bottas had a comfortable advantage over Raikkonen, and even though the gap was just two seconds at the flag he was never under serious threat.

Raikkonen started fifth and was shuffled back to seventh behind both Verstappen and Massa at the first and fourth corners respectively, but recovered to fourth.

He passed Massa shortly after the restart following the safety car, finishing 16.8 seconds ahead of Ricciardo.

Massa was best of the rest outside of the big three teams, with Force India driver Sergio Perez finishing seventh despite starting P18.

After a good first stint, Perez jumped to seventh under the safety car and maintained control of the position to the end on a two-stop strategy.

Haas driver Romain Grosjean claimed his first points finish of 2017 in eighth place, making his second pitstop before Nico Hulkenberg to undercut his way past the Renault driver.

Force India’s Esteban Ocon finished P10 for the third race in succession, with an advantage of 24.2 seconds over Sauber returnee Pascal Wehrlein, who held off Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso’s attacks in the closing laps of the race.

Renault’s Jolyon Palmer was the final driver running at the finish in P13, with McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, who was part of a close three-way battle with the pair for much of the race, classified P14 despite pulling into the pits with two laps remaining.

Marcus Ericsson retired the other Sauber in the closing stages of the race, while Haas driver Magnussen also joined Sainz, Stroll and Verstappen on the retirements list on lap nine when he pulled off with a mechanical failure.

Stoffel Vandoorne was unable to start the race thanks to what is suspected to be a problem with the MGU-H on his Honda engine.

So a fantastic result for Sebastian Vettel. The four-time world champion leads the drivers’ standings over his rival by seven points. As for Ferrari, this result showcase the pure speed and can genuine challenge Mercedes for the championship.

Bahrain Grand Prix race results, after 57 laps:
1    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    57    1h33m53.374s
2    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    57    6.660s
3    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    57    20.397s
4    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    57    22.475s
5    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    57    39.346s
6    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    57    54.326s
7    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    57    1m02.606s
8    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    57    1m14.865s
9    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    57    1m20.188s
10    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    57    1m35.711s
11    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    56    1 Lap
12    Daniil Kvyat    Toro Rosso-Renault    56    1 Lap
13    Jolyon Palmer    Renault    56    1 Lap
14    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    54    Not running
–    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    50    Gearbox
–    Carlos Sainz    Toro Rosso-Renault    12    Collision
–    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    12    Collision
–    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    11    Brakes
–    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    8    Electrical
–    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    0    Not started

Drivers’ standings:
1    Sebastian Vettel    68
2    Lewis Hamilton    61
3    Valtteri Bottas    38
4    Kimi Raikkonen    34
5    Max Verstappen    25
6    Daniel Ricciardo    22
7    Felipe Massa    16
8    Sergio Perez    14
9    Carlos Sainz    10
10    Romain Grosjean    4
11    Kevin Magnussen    4
12    Esteban Ocon    3
13    Nico Hulkenberg    2
14    Daniil Kvyat    2
15    Pascal Wehrlein    0
16    Antonio Giovinazzi    0
17    Jolyon Palmer    0
18    Stoffel Vandoorne    0
19    Fernando Alonso    0
20    Marcus Ericsson    0

Constructors’ standings:
1    Ferrari    102
2    Mercedes    99
3    Red Bull-Renault    47
4    Force India-Mercedes    17
5    Williams-Mercedes    16
6    Toro Rosso-Renault    12
7    Haas-Ferrari    8
8    Renault    2
9    Sauber-Ferrari    0
10    McLaren-Honda    0

Bottas earns his first pole position for Mercedes

Valtteri Bottas claimed his first Formula 1 pole position by edging out his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in a tight Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying duel.

Hamilton had taken P1 in the past two races this season and led the way again through Q1, Q2 and the initial runs in Q3 at Sakhir, but Bottas hit top position on his final run with a lap of one minute, 28.769 seconds.

Hamilton lost a chunk of time in the second sector of his final lap, and also had an oversteer moment at the final corner, so was unable to improve. He ended up second quickest by just 0.023 seconds.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was almost half a second further back in third, suggesting he “tried a bit too hard” on his final Q3 run, which was slower than his first.

Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull split the Ferraris by setting the fourth fastest time on his final run, just 0.022 seconds clear of Kimi Raikkonen.

Max Verstappen was a tenth further back, while Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg beat Felipe Massa’s Williams to the seventh fastest time, with a lap that was within two tenths of Verstappen’s.

Romain Grosjean again got the Haas team into Q3, ending up eighth quickest, well down on Massa and three tenths clear of Jolyon Palmer’s Renault.

Palmer made Q3 for the first time in his Formula 1 career, but eventually qualified over 1.2 seconds down on Renault team-mate Hulkenberg.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat missed out on making the top ten shootout by less than half a tenth of a second, running wide at the final corner and failing to improve on his final Q2 run.

Lance Stroll made only one run after his Williams spent a long period making adjustments in the garage and he ended up only P12.

Pascal Wehrlein qualified a brilliant P13 in the Sauber, on a track he starred at last season for Manor, ahead of the Force India of fellow Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon, and the McLaren-Honda of Fernando Alonso, who didn’t set a time in Q2 after “we broke the power unit”.

Alonso scraped his McLaren-Honda into Q2 thanks to the Toro Rosso of fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz stopping at the final corner in the final moments of Q1.

This relegated Sainz to P16 thanks to rivals earlier improving their times, and it also forced Sergio Perez to back off while on a hot lap in his Force India.

Perez still improved by nearly four tenths of a second, but this still left him down in P18, 0.005 seconds behind the second McLaren-Honda of Stoffel Vandoorne, who had outpaced Alonso fractionally during the initial runs in Q1.

Marcus Ericsson was only P19, over half a second slower than Sauber team-mate Wehrlein, while Haas’s Kevin Magnussen qualified slowest of all after aborting his final flying lap for the yellow flags displayed for Sainz’s stricken Toro Rosso.

So a fantastic performance by Valtteri Bottas. His first pole in the sport and earning his Mercedes team a front row grid slot with Lewis Hamilton slotting in second. It’s going to be fascinating to see who will have the upper hand in the race. Bring on the Bottas versus Hamilton desert duel.

Bahrain Grand Prix, qualifying positions:

1    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    1m28.769s
2    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    1m28.792s
3    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    1m29.247s
4    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    1m29.545s
5    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    1m29.567s
6    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    1m29.687s
7    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    1m29.842s
8    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    1m30.074s
9    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    1m30.763s
10    Jolyon Palmer    Renault    1m31.074s
11    Daniil Kvyat    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m30.923s
12    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    1m31.168s
13    Pascal Wehrlein    Sauber-Ferrari    1m31.414s
14    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    1m31.684s
15    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    No time
16    Carlos Sainz    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m32.118s
17    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    1m32.313s
18    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    1m32.318s
19    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    1m32.543s
20    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    1m32.900s

Alonso to race in the Indy 500

Double Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso will compete in this year’s Indianapolis 500, missing the Monaco Grand Prix due to a date clash.

Following weeks of secret talks involving Honda, McLaren and Alonso, an agreement has been reached for the Spaniard to race in America while the Formula 1 paddock is in Monaco.

Alonso will race a McLaren entry run by the Honda-affiliated Andretti Autosport IndyCar team, headed by former McLaren F1 racer Michael Andretti.

“I’m immensely excited that I’ll be racing in this year’s Indy 500, with McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport,” said Alonso.

“The Indy 500 is one of the most famous races on the global motorsport calendar, rivalled only by the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix, and it’s of course a regret of mine that I won’t be able to race at Monaco this year.

“But Monaco will be the only 2017 Grand Prix I’ll be missing, and I’ll be back in the cockpit of the McLaren-Honda MCL32 for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in early June.”

The shock decision by McLaren to allow its top driver to contest the Indianapolis 500 comes at a time when Alonso’s future is uncertain, as his contract expires at the end of this season.

It will be Alonso’s first attempt on IndyCar’s most famous race and his first experience of oval racing.

McLaren has twice won the Indy 500 as a team, in 1974 and 1976 with Johnny Rutherford, while a Penske-run McLaren chassis won in 1972 with Mark Donohue.

Executive director Zak Brown says Alonso’s entry “will be decked out in the papaya orange livery made famous by our founder Bruce McLaren, and in which Johnny Rutherford drove McLaren IndyCars to Indy 500 victory”.

The last time a driver raced in both Formula 1 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same season was in 1994, when Nigel Mansell made four Grand Prix starts with Williams alongside his full-time Indycar campaign with Newman/Haas Racing.

Exciting times for motorsport fans and best wishes to Fernando Alonso in his new IndyCar adventures at the Brickyard.

Hamilton masterclass in China

Lewis Hamilton converted his pole position into a controlled Formula 1 race victory in an exciting Chinese Grand Prix.

Hamilton and the Mercedes team bounced back from defeat against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the Australian Grand Prix. As the championship leader was unable to mount a challenge this time around, not helped by losing time in traffic after making an early pitstop.

Vettel did finish the race a clear runner-up, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen completing the podium from P16 on the grid, holding off a strong late pressure from team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

While the Shanghai International Circuit was drying quickly after morning rain, all but two cars – the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz and the Renault of Jolyon Palmer (which pitted at the end of the formation lap) – had intermediate tyres fitted.

When the five red lights went out, Hamilton eased towards Turn 1 in the lead, whereas fellow front row starter Vettel only just kept the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas at bay.

There was progress for Red Bull, with Ricciardo picking off Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen for fourth after the opening sequence of corners and Verstappen powering through to seventh by the end of the opening lap, having made up nine places.

Midway through the first lap, Lance Stroll, who had made his first Q3 appearance, was punted off by Force India’s Sergio Perez, the Canadian rookie’s Williams beached in the gravel and forcing an appearance by the virtual safety car.

That remained for a couple of laps, with Hamilton now enjoying a healthy advantage and a number of drivers, including Vettel, opting to switch to slicks.

Most of the frontrunners were on intermediates as green flags waved again, but there was another crash moments later as Antonio Giovinazzi lost his car on the main straight, slamming into the pitwall and leading to a full safety car period.

When the race restarted on lap seven, the whole field was now on slicks, with Ricciardo Hamilton’s closest rival, as Vettel lost ground through the earlier stop and Bottas spun under the safety car when trying to warm up his tyres.

In green-flag conditions, a surging Verstappen quickly passed Raikkonen for third, before picking off Ricciardo a few laps later with a dive into Turn 6.

Hamilton pulled away at the front, with Ricciardo quickly dropping off the pair and instead working to keep the Ferrari duo at bay.

Vettel picked off Raikkonen first, and he needed little time to pull off a superb outside move on Ricciardo.

As Vettel applied pressure to Verstappen, the Red Bull driver locked up into the hairpin at the end of the lap, allowing the Ferrari through before pitting shortly after.

Upon rejoining, Verstappen lit up the timing screens and, after he took fifth from Bottas with another late Turn 6 lunge, all the drivers ahead would make their stops as well.

Eventually, this left Hamilton seven seconds clear of Vettel, and the gap between the pair remained around that point for the rest of the grand prix, eventually ending up at 6.250 seconds at the chequered flag.

It was much closer in the fight for third, as the final laps of the race featured a tense fight between Verstappen and Ricciardo.

Verstappen was frustrated at the Haas of Romain Grosjean running ahead a lap down, but whatever interference from RoGro caused was not enough for Ricciardo to capitalise.

Ricciardo tried a last-lap lunge at the hairpin, but came up short, having to settle for fourth position, while Raikkonen led recovering Bottas in fifth.

Sainz was best of the rest for Toro Rosso in seventh, while Kevin Magnussen scored his first points for his new team Haas in eighth.

He overtook the Force India pair of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, with the duo completing the top ten as they bagged another double points finish for the Indian outfit.

There were five retirements in total, Stroll and Giovinazzi exiting in incidents and three other drivers foiled by reliability – Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and the McLaren duo of Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso, the latter pulling over with a driveshaft failure after battling Sainz.

So a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix. Full of overtakes and wheel-to-wheel action in mixed conditions. The two champions are tied on 43 points with a win apiece. It’s game on for the championship honours.

Chinese Grand Prix, race results after 56 laps:

1    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    56    1h37m36.160s
2    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    56    6.250s
3    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    56    45.192s
4    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    56    46.035s
5    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    56    48.076s
6    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    56    48.808s
7    Carlos Sainz    Toro Rosso-Renault    56    1m12.893s
8    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    55    1 Lap
9    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    55    1 Lap
10    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    55    1 Lap
11    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    55    1 Lap
12    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    55    1 Lap
13    Jolyon Palmer    Renault    55    1 Lap
14    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    55    1 Lap
15    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    55    1 Lap
–    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    33    Transmission
–    Daniil Kvyat    Toro Rosso-Renault    18    Retirement
–    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    17    Retirement
–    Antonio Giovinazzi    Sauber-Ferrari    3    Spun off
–    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    0    Collision

Drivers’ standings:

1    Sebastian Vettel    43
1    Lewis Hamilton    43
3    Max Verstappen    25
4    Valtteri Bottas    23
5    Kimi Raikkonen    22
6    Daniel Ricciardo    12
7    Carlos Sainz    10
8    Felipe Massa    8
9    Sergio Perez    8
10    Kevin Magnussen    4
11    Daniil Kvyat    2
12    Esteban Ocon    2
13    Nico Hulkenberg    0
14    Romain Grosjean    0
15    Antonio Giovinazzi    0
16    Jolyon Palmer    0
16    Stoffel Vandoorne    0
18    Marcus Ericsson    0

Constructors’ standings:

1    Mercedes    66
2    Ferrari    65
3    Red Bull-Renault    37
4    Toro Rosso-Renault    12
5    Force India-Mercedes    10
6    Williams-Mercedes    8
7    Haas-Ferrari    4
8    Renault    0
9    Sauber-Ferrari    0
10    McLaren-Honda    0

Hamilton edges out Vettel for Chinese Grand Prix pole

Lewis Hamilton was victorious in his qualifying fight with  Sebastian Vettel to claim pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix.

No more than two tenths of a second covered the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers after the first runs in Q2, with Vettel fractionally ahead of Hamilton, followed by Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen.

The Iceman actually breaking a new lap record at the Shanghai International Circuit. Beating Michael Schumacher’s achievement for Ferrari.

But Hamilton stepped up a gear at the start of Q3, leading Vettel by almost two tenths of a second after the first runs despite running wide out of Turn 3 and suffering a snap of oversteer at the exit of Turn 11.

The Mercedes driver improved to a one minute, 31.678 seconds best on his final run with a cleaner lap, claiming pole by just 0.186 seconds.

Vettel joined Hamilton in the one minute, 31 seconds on his own final flying lap, but he failed to improve in sector one and lost out. When informed by Ferrari he had missed pole by two tenths, Vettel reckoned “I didn’t have that” time in the car.

Bottas put in an excellent final lap in Q3, but missed out on beating Vettel to the front row by just one thousandth of a second.

Raikkonen fell away in Q3, ending up fourth complaining of understeer, nearly three tenths back from Bottas.

Red Bull reckoned Daniel Ricciard got everything out of his car in posting the fifth quickest time, nearly 1.5 seconds away from pole but almost half a second clear of Felipe Massa’s Williams.

Nico Hulkenberg was sixth fastest in Q2 and chose to complete his solo Q3 run at the start of that session instead of the end, but this was still good enough for seventh position for Renault.

Force India’s Sergio Perez was eighth, just ahead of Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso, while rookie Lance Stroll rounded out the top ten in for Williams on his first Q3 appearance.

The battle to make it into the top ten shootout was extremely tight between Stroll, Perez, the Toro Rossos, and Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.

Carlos Sainz missed the cut by just 0.060 seconds after failing to improve on his second Q2 run, while Magnussen was only 0.014 seconds further back in P12.

Fernando Alonso pushed like an animal in the McLaren-Honda to make the top ten in Q1 and eventually qualify P13, just over two tenths down on the Haas and almost seven tenths clear of Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber.

Sauber unexpectedly got both cars through to Q2, thanks to Antonio Giovinazzi crashing heavily at the final corner just as the chequered flag came out at the end of Q1 – which delayed other drivers who were yet to complete their laps.

The Ferrari reserved driver took no part in Q2 so was classified P16, ahead of Romain Grosjean’s Haas, Jolyon Palmer’s Renault, and Esteban Ocon’s Force India, which all had to abort their final flying laps in Q1.

McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne was unaffected, but his best lap was not good enough to displace Giovinazzi, so Vandoorne missed the cut by just 0.060 seconds.

Melbourne qualifying star Grosjean had earlier spun exiting the final corner, ruining his first Q1 run, so he wound up only P17, two tenths behind Vandoorne.

Palmer was P18 and Ocon last, both sandwiching the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, who struggled with an engine software issue throughout the session.

Both Grosjean and Palmer are also under investigation by the FIA, for allegedly failing to slow sufficiently under yellow flags at the end of Q1.

So a tight and exciting battle in qualifying between Mercedes and Ferrari. Rain is forecasted on race day and this is going to make it a thrilling contest. Game on.

Chinese Grand Prix, qualifying positions:

1    Lewis Hamilton    Mercedes    1m31.678s
2    Sebastian Vettel    Ferrari    1m31.864s
3    Valtteri Bottas    Mercedes    1m31.865s
4    Kimi Raikkonen    Ferrari    1m32.140s
5    Daniel Ricciardo    Red Bull-Renault    1m33.033s
6    Felipe Massa    Williams-Mercedes    1m33.507s
7    Nico Hulkenberg    Renault    1m33.580s
8    Sergio Perez    Force India-Mercedes    1m33.706s
9    Daniil Kvyat    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m33.719s
10    Lance Stroll    Williams-Mercedes    1m34.220s
11    Carlos Sainz    Toro Rosso-Renault    1m34.150s
12    Kevin Magnussen    Haas-Ferrari    1m34.164s
13    Fernando Alonso    McLaren-Honda    1m34.372s
14    Marcus Ericsson    Sauber-Ferrari    1m35.046s
15    Antonio Giovinazzi    Sauber-Ferrari    –
16    Stoffel Vandoorne    McLaren-Honda    1m35.023s
17    Romain Grosjean    Haas-Ferrari    1m35.223s
18    Jolyon Palmer    Renault    1m35.279s
19    Max Verstappen    Red Bull-Renault    1m35.433s
20    Esteban Ocon    Force India-Mercedes    1m35.496s