Lewis Hamilton is officially the best British qualifier in Formula 1 history, surpassing Jim Clark’s record of pole positions in today’s rain-hit qualifying session at the Chinese Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver clocked a blistering 1:53.860 in the final phase of qualifying, comfortably claiming pole position from Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull Racing Renault by almost six-tenths of a second. Their respective teammates, Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, make an all-German second row, with Rosberg spinning on his final flying lap and dropping to fourth.
The rain showers that greeted the field in today’s earlier practice session persisted into qualifying, forcing the field to gamble between the decision to use the Pirelli Intermediate or full Wet tyre compounds.
Hamilton was quickest in every segment of qualifying, laying down benchmark laps in Q1 and Q2 that left him unchallenged into the final top-ten shootout for pole. Three minutes into the session and he looked to have done it again, but with Ricciardo edging closer on his first proper run, Hamilton went out again and delivered a knockout blow.
Ricciardo – who outqualified teammate Sebastian Vettel for the third time in their four outings as teammates – was able to match Hamilton over the first two sectors of the Shanghai circuit, but the superior grunt of the Englishman’s Mercedes down the third sector’s 1.1-kilometre back straight gave him the edge where it counted.
In equal equipment, Hamilton’s teammate Rosberg was his only other significant threat, but the German over-drove in in Q3, suffering a number of lock-ups before throwing away a potential pole-winning lap by spinning at the final corner.
Fernando Alonso was the sole Ferrari-powered entrant in Q3 and tigered his way to a lonely fifth place, a worrying 1.7 seconds off Hamilton’s pace. It was a gap that was all the more galling giving the Spaniard had lapped within a few tenths of the Englishman in Friday practice, but few honestly expected the red cars to challenge the sharp end of the field this weekend. Teammate Kimi Räikkönen missed out on his own Q3 appearance by two-hundredths of a second and starts eleventh.
Despite the FW36 being ill-suited to damp conditions, the Williams pairing of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were clean and precise in qualifying, easily getting into the final phase en route to sixth and seventh on the grid, narrowly ahead of Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg.
Jean-Éric Vergne once again showed his one-lap speed by qualifying ninth, while his compatriot Romain Grosjean sprang the biggest surprise, comfortably getting into Q3 in his Lotus, which seemed much more at ease in the damp conditions. Whether it was the E22’s raft of upgrades paying dividents or the damp conditions suiting the chassis is (as yet) unknown, but it was still a remarkable effort.
The performances of Vergne and Grosjean ensured that there were a few high-profile casualties in qualifying. Aside from Räikkönen’s early exit, neither McLaren showed much pace with both Jenson Button (12th) and Kevin Magnussen (15th) never seriously threatening the top ten. One imagines the team rather wished it could have rethought its decision to restrict both drivers’ track time in the preceding FP3 session.
The pair was split by Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat and Sauber’s Adrian Sutil, the latter gambling on a switch to Intermediate tyres during FP1, which proved a correct move in getting him beyond the first qualifying hurdle.
His Sauber teammate Esteban Gutiérrez was unable to match his efforts and joined the Caterham and Marussia drivers – along with Pastor Maldonado, whose Lotus was still having a new engine fitted after an oil leak in FP3 – in being knocked out early. Kamui Kobayashi won the bragging rights out of the Caterham/Marussia quartet, wrestling his ill-handling CT03 to eighteenth ahead of Jules Bianchi and Marcus Ericsson. Max Chilton was once again slowest of all, his FP3 pace having deserted him in the two-hour break leading up to qualifying.
Sunday’s 56-lap Chinese Grand Prix gets underway at 3:00pm local time (GMT +8).
2014 Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix – Qualifying Results:
|Driver||Team / Entry||Time||Gap||Laps|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||1:53.860||21|
|2.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||1:54.455||+ 0.595||23|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||1:54.960||+ 1.100||23|
|4.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||1:55.143||+ 1.283||22|
|5.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||1:55.637||+ 1.777||21|
|6.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||1:56.147||+ 2.287||24|
|7.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||1:56.282||+ 2.422||24|
|8.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||1:56.366||+ 2.506||23|
|9.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||1:56.773||+ 2.913||23|
|10.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||1:57.079||+ 3.219||22|
|Q3 Cut-Off: 1:56.847||Time||Gap*||Laps|
|11.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||1:56.860||+ 2.839||17|
|12.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||1:56.963||+ 2.934||17|
|13.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||1:57.289||+ 3.260||18|
|14.||Adrian Sutil||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||1:57.393||+ 3.364||17|
|15.||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||1:57.675||+ 3.646||17|
|16.||Sergio Pérez||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||1:58.264||+ 4.235||17|
|Q2 Cut-Off: 1:58.411||Time||Gap**||Laps|
|17.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||1:58.988||+ 3.472||10|
|18.||Kamui Kobayashi||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||1:59.260||+ 3.744||10|
|19.||Jules Bianchi||Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||1:59.326||+ 3.810||10|
|20.||Marcus Ericsson||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||2:00.646||+ 5.130||10|
|21.||Max Chilton||Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||2:00.865||+ 5.349||10|
|DNQ.||Pastor Maldonado^||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||no time||0|
* Gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:54.029 by Lewis Hamilton
** Gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:55.516 by Lewis Hamilton
^ Pastor Maldonado was to have served a five-place grid penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Esteban Gutierrez during the Bahrain Grand Prix, but his penalty will carry forward to the next Grand Prix as a result of his non-participation in this session.
Image via Sutton Images