Sebastian Vettel claimed the 52nd pole position of his Formula 1 career with a superb lap in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, breaking the lap record at the Shanghai International Circuit. The German beat teammate Kimi Räikkönen by less than one-tenth of a second with an extraordinary final lap in Q3.
The one-lap pace of the Ferraris was such that the pair lapped almost half a second faster than their nearest challengers, Mercedes, who had a troubled qualifying session with Valtteri Bottas claiming third-fastest ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton. It marked the first time that a Mercedes hadn’t qualified on the front row in Shanghai since 2012.
Räikkönen actually looked on course to claim his first pole position of 2018 with a fine opening lap in Q3, which he bettered on his second and final attempt. Vettel somehow found more in hand with a rapid final sector that proved enough to displace the Finn by just 0.087 seconds.
Hamilton aborted his final flying lap when it became clear he could not mount a serious challenge and will start the race from fourth on the grid. The Englishman sits 17 points behind Vettel, the race-winner in both Australia and Bahrain, and is once again under real pressure.
Even his tactic of trying to run a long opening race stint by posting his fastest Q2 lap time on the more durable Soft compound tyres was thwarted; both Ferraris opted to abandon their Ultrasoft laps in Q2 when it was clear they would sail into the final segment of the session.
Vettel is undoubtedly in the pound seats and looking confident to make it three wins in a row. No driver has ever lost the Drivers’ Championship title after winning the opening three races of the season, but Ferrari hasn’t won here since 2013 and Vettel’s last (and sole) victory was back in 2009. Hamilton, by contrast, is a five-time winner in Shanghai and cannot be discounted.
Red Bull Racing continued the Noah’s Ark grid formation by getting Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo onto the third row. That Ricciardo was able to participate at all just hours after his car suffered a turbo failure in final practice was itself incredible. His repaired RB14 was fired up with just three minutes of Q1 to go, and the Australian managed to sneak into Q2 with the 14th-fastest time. His eventual sixth place on the grid should be credited to the Milton Keynes team’s mechanics.
The two factory Renaults of Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. made it into the top-ten and will start from seventh and ninth respectively, split by a surprise performance by Force India’s Sergio Pérez. Romain Grosjean bounced back from a brake-troubled FP3 to claim tenth place.
His teammate Kevin Magnussen starts from eleventh place ahead of the second Force India of Esteban Ocon.
Despite their best slipstreaming efforts, neither McLaren had the pace to make it into Q3, thanks in part to Sainz, Pérez and Grosjean’s late flying laps that bumped Alonso out of the top ten.
Brendon Hartley made Q2 for the second time in his short Formula 1 career, but Toro Rosso teammate Pierre Gasly was left disappointed and crashed back to earth after his Bahrain heroics by qualifying two spots behind the New Zealander.
Gasly was sandwiched by the two Williams’ of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll – the former outqualifying his more experienced teammate for the second time in as many races. There was little to cheer about in the Grove team’s garages, with his result underlining the FW41’s shortcomings by being the first time a Williams car has failed to qualify inside the top-six in China.
The two Alfa Romeo Saubers brought up the rear, with Charles Leclerc – despite a wild spin at the exit of the last corner – outpacing teammate Marcus Ericsson.
The 56-lap Chinese Grand Prix gets underway at 14:10 local time (GMT +8).
|FORMULA 1 2018 HEINEKEN CHINESE GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING RESULTS|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:31.095|
|2.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:31.182||+ 0.087|
|3.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:31.625||+ 0.530|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:31.675||+ 0.580|
|5.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:31.796||+ 0.701|
|6.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:31.948||+ 0.948|
|7.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:32.532||+ 1.437|
|8.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:32.758||+ 1.663|
|9.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:32.819||+ 1.724|
|10.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:32.855||+ 1.760|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|11.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:32.986||+ 1.072|
|12.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:33.057||+ 1.143|
|13.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:33.232||+ 1.318|
|14.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:33.505||+ 1.591|
|15.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:33.795||+ 1.881|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|16.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:34.062||+ 1.891|
|17.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:34.101||+ 1.930|
|18.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:34.285||+ 2.114|
|19.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:34.454||+ 2.283|
|20.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:34.914||+ 2.743|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:32.171 posted by Sebastian Vettel
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:31.914 posted by Lewis Hamilton
Image via Scuderia Ferrari