Chinese GP Qualifying: Lewis Hamilton claims Shanghai pole
Mercedes hang on to pole amid Ferrari challenge as Hamilton delivers a "champion's lap" to edge out Vettel; Red Bull's Verstappen drops out in Q1 but Alonso hauls McLaren into Q2
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 08/04/17 2:07pm
Lewis Hamilton overcame a fierce challenge from Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel to claim Chinese GP pole and maintain Mercedes' dominance of F1 qualifying.
Mercedes' run of successive Shanghai poles dating back to 2012 had appeared under serious threat when Ferrari, the Australian GP winners and early 2017 championship leaders, topped Q1 and Q2, but Hamilton produced a scintillating record lap of 1:31.678 to edge Vettel into second place.
But Ferrari still start alongside Mercedes on the front row for the second successive race as an exciting Q3 finale saw Vettel edge out Valtteri Bottas by 0.001 seconds - the equivalent of 5.9cm of track distance.
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Kimi Raikkonen disappointed in Q3 to take a relatively distant fourth, but the top two teams' advantage over Red Bull - in excess of one second - was such that the Finn still finished a long way ahead of fifth-placed Daniel Ricciardo on the timesheet.
"Textbook lap - nobody was going to beat that," said Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle of Hamilton's sixth pole in a row and 63rd in F1. "It was a champion's lap."
Mercedes maintain pole stranglehold - just
After a disrupted Friday programme, Ferrari had led the way in all of Saturday's track sessions before Hamilton upped the ante in Q3. After Raikkonen in Q2 beat Michael Schumacher's 13-year-old lap record, Hamilton twice lowered the mark again in the closing minutes to cap an impressive under-pressure performance.
"The Ferraris have looked so fast," said Hamilton. "We knew it was going to be close and we had to pull out all the stops. I manage to chip away at it. It's more exciting than ever for me because we are really fighting these guys. That's what racing is all about and it pushes you on."
Rain is forecast for race day and Vettel, whose only win in China came in torrential conditions in 2009, added: "We will see tomorrow how important being on front row is. if we could have been a bit quicker it would have been even nicer. Maybe I chickened on the brakes slightly on the last lap.
"Our car is strong no matter what. I think we can still improve. The conditions will be quite different."
Verstappen drops out in dramatic Q1
A Q1 exit for Max Verstappen proved the qualifying hour's major surprise. The Dutchman's lap times were compromised by an engine software problem, leaving him towards the foot of the timesheet and unable to prolong his qualifying session.
Verstappen was already struggling for pace when Sauber stand-in Antonio Giovinazzi brought Q1 to an early early when he crashed heavily on Shanghai's pitstraight.
Forced to abandon what had been set to prove personal best laps, Romain Grosjean, Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon all joined Verstappen in exiting qualifying early.
Palmer and Grosjean were later handed five-place grid penalties and three penalty points for failing to slow under double yellow flags following Giovinazzi's crash, moving Verstappen and Ocon up off the back row of the grid.
McLaren's interest in qualifying had been expected to be over by Q1 too, and although Stoffel Vandoorne did not clear the first hurdle for the second successive race, Fernando Alonso produced more relative heroics to qualify 13th.
"I'm pushing like an animal," said Alonso over team radio as he defied his own post-Australia prediction that McLaren would be "last and second last" on a more typical race circuit such as Shanghai.
Hulkenberg takes Renault back into top 10
Meanwhile, with Red Bull in splendid isolation on the timesheet, Williams again qualified at the head of the midfield with Felipe Massa taking sixth on the grid.
New Renault signing Nico Hulkenberg starred on the way to seventh place, with the German to share the fourth row with former Force India team-mate Sergio Perez.
After a challenging debut weekend in Australia, 18-year-old Lance Stroll made Q3 for the first time with a solid drive to 10th place. Daniil Kvyat won the battle of the Toro Rossos to qualify ninth, as Carlos Sainz just missed out on the top 10 along with Haas's Kevin Magnussen.
Sunday's race starts at 7am live only on Sky Sports F1, with build-up underway from 5.30am.
Chinese Grand Prix Qualifying results
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:31.678
2. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, + 0.186
3. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, + 0.187
4. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, + 0.462
5. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, + 1.355
6. Felipe Massa, Williams, + 1.829
7. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, + 1.902
8. Sergio Perez, Force India, + 2.028
9. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, + 2.041
10. Lance Stroll, Williams, + 2.542
11. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:34.150
12. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, 1:34.164
13. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 1:34.372
15. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:35.046
16. Antonio Giovinazzi, Sauber, No time set
16. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, 1:35.023
17. Romain Grosjean, Haas 1:35.223*
18. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, 1:35.279*
19. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:35.433
20. Esteban Ocon, Force India, 1:35.496
*Receives five-place grid penalty
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