Chinese Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton grabs pole position ahead of Sebastian Vettel

The Brit beat Ferrari's Vettel, winner of the season-opener in Australia a fortnight ago, into second place with Hamilton's Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas coming in third

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The Independent Online

The 63rd pole position – and the 75th for the Mercedes marque – brought a smile to Lewis Hamilton’s face in Shangai this afternoon, but as arch-rival Sebastian Vettel pushed his team-mate Valtteri Bottas off the front row by a mere thousandth of a second, the Englishman knows they both face a keen fight in tomorrow’s race.

With no chance of serious running because of yesterday’s weather conditions, team were forced to pack their Friday programmes of tyre testing and race runs into this morning’s practice session, and Vettel was fastest from team-mate Kimi Raikkonen with Bottas and Hamilton almost half a second adrift.

In the first qualifying session Vettel was again fastest, while Raikkonen dominated the second. But after the first runs in the final session Hamilton fastest with 1m 31.902s despite a big slide in the second sector, with Vettel next on 1m 32.086s from Bottas on 1m 32.265s. Raikkonen complained of poor rear-end grip and asked whether his previous settings had been changed as he dropped away with 1m 32.616s.


Hamilton’s second run was tidier and yielded 1m 31.678s. Vettel also improved, but only to 1m 31.864s as he snatched second place back from Bottas. Raikkonen still struggled and had to be content with fourth on 1m 32.140s, but was still comfortably ahead of Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull and Felipe Massa’s Williams. The Australian’s team-mate Max Verstappen was only 19th fastest, after encountering an engine problem in the opening qualifying session.

“We’ll see tomorrow how important starting from the front row was,” Vettel said, looking very happy with his performance despite missing the pole. “It was a nice session and I enjoyed it, and if I had been quicker at the end I would have enjoyed it even more. Maybe I lost a little bit on the last corner chickening on the brakes, but I just had that little margin over Valtteri to make the front row.”

“It’s been an interesting weekend so far with no testing yesterday,” Hamilton said, “so it was a real challenge today for all of us. We had to pack what we would have done yesterday into FP3 this morning and hope that we hit the nail on the head with the balance. Ferrari looked so fast this morning and in each of the first two qualifying sessions, so we knew it be close and pulled out all the stops. We managed it session by session and my last lap was my best lap, which is always the plan.

"The first part of it wasn’t great but it got better and better and I knew I was up in the last corner. Knowing that going into Turn 14 always makes you nervous, because you want to gain more time there and not lose any, but I knew I had improved as I came across line and then had to wait to see what everyone had done as they finished their laps… I’m very, very happy, and grateful to everyone at Mercedes for their efforts to keep us in the fight. It’s amazing to fight like this, as you are pushed to raise the bar every time you go out.

“As for Mercedes’ 75th pole, I’ve been with them a long, long time, since I was 13, and all my F1 wins and poles have been with them. I’m grateful to be in this family and to be a part of the journey that the team and brand are on. I want to go on and keep stamping something in the history books, to look back on some day.”

Hamilton secured pole for Sunday's race (Getty)

The track was dry today, but tomorrow the rain is expected to return, throwing everything back on to the table. And while that creates an interesting situation for Hamilton in particular, as he has much less experience on Pirelli’s new wet tyres than does Vettel, he said he was relishing the prospect.

“I haven’t driven the new wet tyre this season, so it’s going to be fun experiencing the bigger cars and the wider tyres for the first time tomorrow. It’ll be a new lesson for me. Ferrari are very, very strong and we know how well they treat their tyres, so it’ll be interesting to see what weather brings. But we’ve worked hard to understand our car better, so I think it’s going to be close between us. I’m not worried about it, I’m excited.”

The FIA said that plans had been laid with the local police to keep a lane of the motorways clear so that any drivers injured in accidents can be taken by road to the Huashan Hospital in Shanghai if cloud cover prevents the medical helicopter from running, as happened on Friday. The Huashan is 20 miles away in Shanghai, but is the only facility within range that meets the governing body’s stringent neurological criteria.