Sebastian Vettel on pole at Chinese GP

April 14 2018 , 12:25 pm

Sebastian Vettel claimed pole for the Chinese Grand Prix, completing an all-Ferrari front row with his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in second. The session proved tricky for Mercedes, however, with reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton only able to manage fourth behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Raikkonen had put in a fine run to top the time sheets on his first hot run in Q3, over a tenth up on Vettel, with Hamilton a further four-tenths down in fourth. The Finn then went quicker on his final lap but Vettel proved to have something more when it counted, putting in an exemplary lap of 1.31.095, eight-hundredths up on his team-mate and a new track record. Hamilton, however, aborted his final quick run in Q3.

This is Vettel’s second pole of the season after he took the top spot at the last round in Bahrain, which he converted into victory. With a win at the first meeting in Melbourne he now leads Hamilton by 17 points in the world championship. Should he win here it will be his 50th career victory, putting him behind only Michael Schumacher, Hamilton and Alain Prost. But more pertinently he will have begun the season with a remarkable advantage. No driver has won the opening three rounds and not gone on to take the title. Mercedes are now under real pressure.

Vettel has won here only once before in 2009 for Red Bull despite having secured pole three times. Ferrari have not been victorious in Shanghai since Fernando Alonso took the flag in 2013, although Vettel was second last year, in a race dominated by Hamilton and Mercedes, who have won every meeting here since the turbo hybrid era began in 2014.

The 52nd career pole for the German comes on the back of a strong run in Bahrain, where the team had the quickest car over the weekend and they will be further buoyed by this performance It is their first pole in China since Rubens Barrichello was quickest in 2004 and the first time Mercedes have been beaten to the front of this grid here since 2012.

The opening sector is a tight, twisting run that demands balance and downforce but the two major straights require low drag. The Ferrari proved more forgiving in switching on its tyres and maintaining their grip, whereas Mercedes lacked temperature in their rubber.

Hamilton appeared to be struggling with understeer and a lack of grip and bringing the tyres up to temperature throughout the session. He and four front-runners all opted to set their best times in Q2 on the soft tyre with which they will start the grand prix, the harder rubber allowing a longer run on the opening stint.

The British driver was quickest in the first two practice sessions but it was Vettel and Raikkonen who were on top on the final runs on Saturday, with Hamilton lacking grip in the cold temperatures and a second off the pace.

Red Bull did well to put two cars into Q3. Daniel Ricciardo failed to set a time after suffering a suspected turbo failure in final practice. With Renault unable to supply a pre-made replacement power unit for qualifying, the team worked relentlessly to get the Australian out. He managed to make one run in Q1, just making it through, which he then converted into a creditable sixth place, while Max Verstappen was in fifth.

The two Renaults of Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr were in seventh and ninth respectively, with the Force India of Sergio Pérez in eighth and Romain Grosjean’s Haas in 10th.

The Haas of Kevin Magnussen was in 11th, ahead of Esteban Ocon’s Force India. The McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were in 13th and 14th, with Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso in 15th.

The two Williams of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll were knocked out in Q3 in 16th and 18th, respectively. Pierre Gasly, after a fourth place in Bahrain, was in 17th. Sauber’s Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson were in 19th and 20th.

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