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