2013 Chinese GP: Lewis Hamilton on pole ahead of Kimi Raikkonen & Fernando Alonso
World Champion Vettel to start just ninth as Webber runs out of fuel
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 13/04/13 11:43am
Hamilton's third pole in Shanghai - and third successive defeat of new Mercedes team-mate Rosberg - will see him start Sunday's race alongside Kimi Raikkonen on the front row just ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
"I'm ecstatic," triumphed an elated Hamilton who is on the verge of emerging as a serious contender for this year's title. "The lap was great and the team have performed well all weekend."
Both Mercedes cars appeared to possess the pace to claim pole but - as in both Australia and Malaysia when Rosberg was ultimately trumped when it mattered most by Hamilton after leading the way into Q3 - the German was made to pay for a leery final corner while the 2008 World Champion laid down a lap of 1:34.484 to finish almost three-tenths clear of Raikkonen's bewilderingly-inconsistent Lotus.
Not that the E21 had a monopoly on providing bewilderment this Saturday, however. With the Pirelli soft tyres both far faster and more fragile than the medium compound, the upshot was vast swathes of inactivity over the course of an hour-long session which hosted perhaps as little as 20 minutes of competitive running.
At its culmination, the first timed lap during Q3 was only set once the chequered flag had fallen while neither the McLaren of Jenson Button, the Sauber of Nico Hulkenberg nor the Red Bull of World Champion Sebastian Vettel sought to set a realistic lap time as they trundled around the Shanghai circuit on the medium tyres in order to play a strategic curve ball.
Vettel will have the luxury of being able to choose to start the race on either of the two Pirellis compounds after he failed to complete a time at all after slipping off the circuit to finish behind Button, but the decision not to compete for pole was first and foremost born of a speed disadvantage compared to the hitherto-dominant Ferraris and Mercedes'. To date, every session this weekend has been topped by either a W04 or a F138.
As if Red Bull didn't have enough problems to contend with, there was acute and high-profile embarrassment for the World Champions when Mark Webber ran out of fuel midway through Q2 and was forced to park his stricken RB9 out on track. The Australian will start Sunday's race from the back of the grid for the rules breach as conspiracy replaced crisis around the embattled Red Bull team. Mistakes happen but some are particularly badly timed.
"It's just disappointing after all the work has gone in," lamented Webber. "This is such an important stage in the weekend. We need to understand what happened and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Alonso, meanwhile, had the satisfaction of out-qualifying Ferrari team-mate Massa for the first time in six months and confidently predicted the F138's race pace would, as ever, prove its strongest suit.
"The race pace normally is better so I don't see any change here to any other race. I expect tomorrow to have a good position in the race and fighting for the podium and hopefully for the win," the Spaniard told Sky Sports F1.
"I think particularly with Kimi we will have a strong opponent because normally the Lotus is one of the best at taking care of its tyres and we know tomorrow tyres will be one of the key factors."
However, the star of an otherwise frustrating and irritating qualifying session was Daniel Ricciardo as he hustled his Toro Rosso into the top ten for the first time in almost a year.
An intriguing tactical battle awaits in Sunday's race with Hamilton and Mercedes boasting a slight speed advantage from Alonso and Massa, Raikkonen the potentially critical capacity to run for longer without stopping, and both Red Bulls operating from an altogether different tactical perspective.
"The two closest guys [Raikkonen and Alonso] will be the biggest challenge," predicted Hamilton to Sky Sports F1. "The Ferrari is massively quick on the first lap and so is Kimi. And Kimi is particularly very strong with looking after the option tyres so it's going to be very hard to keep them behind.
"After that when we get on to the primes I think we are in a good position but it's just a matter of how much ground we can maintain or try not to lose in the first stint."
After Saturday's frustration, the relief of Sunday should be fun and fireworks.