Record-setting pole for Lewis Hamilton at the Chinese Grand Prix.
A two-team fight with all four drivers smashing in flying laps ended with Lewis Hamilton posting a Shanghai International Circuit lap record for pole. Edging out Vettel and Bottas to take his sixth consecutive pole in Formula One in dramatic fashion.
Mercedes had taken pole in Shanghai for the past five years, with their two drivers splitting the honours on the front row. But with Rosberg gone, it was down to Hamilton and Bottas to continue the team’s dominance in China – a country where Hamilton himself already held five poles to his name.
Setting a new lap record in qualifying certainly helped Hamilton on his way to adding one more pole to his and the team’s tallies. But not only did the lap record lead to his sixth pole at the circuit, pole today adds onto his current string of Saturday P1’s to match Ayrton Senna’s record of 6 in a row.
Had Vettel claimed his first pole in China since 2011, he would have taken Ferrari’s first pole in the country since Rubens Barrichello’s in 2004. The year in which Michael Schumacher set the previous lap record.
While Red Bull will also be looking back at the 2011 and hoping for a similar outcome tomorrow. As while Hamilton may have snatched the win from Vettel that day, Mark Webber stormed through the field from 18th on the grid to end the day on the podium. A feet Verstappen will need to match tomorrow after issues and a crash hampered his qualifying.
After the abandoned running of Friday practice, qualifying engaging unfazed by the weather was a welcome sight. As sunshine peeked through the cloud cover to welcome Antonio Giovinaazi out onto the Chinese track to break the silence.
The Italian is once again running for Sauber in place of Pascal Wehrlein. With the German racer continuing his recovery programme following his Race of Champions crash during the winter break.
As the first man out, Giovinazzi took the honours of posting the first timed lap too. Setting a 1:35.437, a lap 0.432 seconds faster than his more experienced team-mate in Marcus Ericsson.
Another more experienced man than Giovinazzi was also out on track early as well. But Romain Grosjean’s start to proceedings was far less fruitful than the Italians, as the Haas driver lit up his rear tyres exiting the final corner.
Lighting up his tyres as he straddled the exit kerb saw Romain spin towards the outside wall. Burning holes into his tyres and bringing out yellow flags, which slowed the likes of Hamilton as the Brit went fastest.
Although the yellow flags may not have been enough to prevent Hamilton from going fastest of the first batch of runners, Vettel – on the soft tyres rather than supersofts – was able to go faster. Three-tenths faster, partly aided by Hamilton being forced to slow.
Early issues also crept into the garages of McLaren and Red Bull, with Vandoorne and Verstappen both hampered by early issues.
For Verstappen, his problems lied with his Renault power unit and was forced to return to the Red Bull garage. All the while his team-mate went fifth fastest, although his lap remained a second down on Vettel.
Amazingly, just five-tenths further back from Ricciardo sat Fernando Alonso. Overdriving the McLaren like only he could, Alonso was able to move his Honda-powered waggon into a then top-10 position while his team-mate struggled with issues.
When Vandoorne and Verstappen both returned to the track, time was not in their favour to get more than one flying lap in. And for Verstappen, his first flying lap left him more than two seconds off of pole position and half a second away from safety as the same error emerged again.
The engine software problem meant Verstappen was unable to select the correct engine mode out of the final corners. Forcing him to select mode 10 rather than the desired 12.
Thankfully for Red Bull, time did allow for another flying lap. But when Giovinazzi spun at the final corner, even setting a new personal best middle sector was never going to be enough for Verstappen. Killing his progress and taking the flag in 19th place for a spot on the back row of the grid.
Like Grosjean, Giovinazzi ran wide out of the final corner before lighting up his tyres and pitching the car into a spin. But unlike the Haas driver, Sauber’s rookie had run further wide and ran onto the astro – leaving him in less control and ending up in the barrier with substantial damage to his car.
Yellow flags waving for Giovinazzi also meant the likes of Jolyon Palmer, Romain Grosjean and Esteban Ocon all could not improve their times. Ironically handing Antonio a Q2 place, despite Grosjean and Ocon both being on laps strong enough for safety.
After running on the soft tyres in Q1, Ferrari looked to the race in Q2 and came straight out on the supersoft tyres. Just as Mercedes were, as they radioed Hamilton on his out lap to remind him he was on his ‘race set’.
Being on the race set means the set they will start the race on should they not improve during Q2. And after their first timed laps, Hamilton would need to improve if he wanted to get one over Vettel ahead of the pole position shootout.
Raikkonen had been first to post a time in the Q2 fight. But Vettel up next pushed his team-mate down as he moved top on a 1:32.391. A lap Hamilton could only get within one-hundredth of a second of as he settled into second place ahead of his Finnish team-mate in Bottas.
Oddly, the man who was fastest in the first sector was the man who came out slowest of the three. As Bottas in third set the fastest Sector 1, before Hamilton went purple in S2 and Vettel took the third.
Alonso, meanwhile, in the underpowered McLaren was still able to push hard to be 11th fastest with his first flyer of the stage. Just two tenths away from Perez in the top-10.
With two minutes to go all bar the Mercedes duo, the remaining Red Bull and the crashed-out Giovinazzi returned to the track.
First to set a new lap time under the chequered flag was Nico Hulkenberg as the Renault driver jumped up from 12th place to sixth to secure a Q3 spot at his new team.
Daniil Kvyat and Sergio Perez then followed the German in finding time to move into the top 10. As Stroll, Sainz, Alonso and Vettel all found no gains in their final runs.
For Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel, however, Q3 was still their destination. A first for Stroll in his young Formula One career. While Kimi Raikkonen, pushing on new tyres, was able to set a new fastest lap of the day with a 1:32.181.
But not only was his lap the new fastest for the day, it was a lap record for Formula One at the Shanghai International Circuit. Bettering the 1:32.238 set by Michael Schumacher all the way back in 2004 when F1 made its Chinese debut.
After being fastest in Q1 and Q2, pole was now in the sights of Ferrari. And with a new lap record in their pocket, their first pole in China since that 2004 race was a real possibility too.
Provisional pole was a different matter, though. As Hamilton bettered Raikkonen’s freshly set lap record to post one of his own as he broke into the 1:31s.
As for Raikkonen, a poor first sector left him slower than his rivals. While Vettel came home two-tenths off Hamilton’s benchmark as he radioed in claims that a gust of wind affected him through T12.
Sebastian’s engineer replied back that the data suggested his claims were likely. But Hamilton’s lap was not perfect either, as he wrestled for control through turn 13.
Second and final runs in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix saw Hamilton improve in the first, second and third sector. Lowering the benchmark again and setting an improved lap record with a purple middle sector.
In terms of lap time, Vettel closely matched Hamilton in the first sector. But as the lap went on, he slightly fell off and his time left him fighting Bottas for the front row.
At the line, the gap sat at just one-thousandth of a second between the German and the Finn. A gap that sat in the German’s favour, meaning there would be no front row lockout for Mercedes. And the long wait for a Ferrari front-row lockout continues with Raikkonen only fourth.
As the only Red Bull fighting in Q3, Ricciardo cut a lonely figure on the leaderboard in fifth. Running nowhere near the Mercedes or Ferrari’s, and comfortably ahead of Williams, Renault and Force India.
There were no comfortable margins between those three, though. With Massa taking sixth place from Hulkenberg by 7-hundredths of a second. A further tenth of a second then separated the Renault driver from his former team-mate and Kvyat. While Lance Stroll rounded out the top 10 in his first Q3.
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1’33.033||1.355|
|8||Sergio Perez||Force India||1’33.706||2.028|
|9||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1’33.719||2.041|
|11||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||1’34.150||2.472|
|15||Antonio Giovinazzi**||Sauber||No time set in Q2||—|
|19||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1’35.433||3.755|
|20||Esteban Ocon||Force India||1’35.496||3.818|
*Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer were both handed five-place grid penalties following qualifying after they were deemed to have not slowed sufficiently under the double waved yellows for Giovinazzi’s crashed Sauber. This penalty pushes the drivers down to 19th and 20th respectively, while promoting Verstappen (19th -> 17th) and Ocon (20th -> 18th).
**Following his Q1 crash, Antonio Giovinazzi was forced to change his gearbox ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix. As a result, the Italian was handed a five-place grid penalty demoting him from 15th to 18th place. Giovinazzi only falls back three of the five penalty places as Grosjean and Palmer both are required to serve their full penalties for ignoring yellow flags.