Championship leader Valtteri Bottas took pole position in China for Mercedes Saturday, leading his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton and the two Ferrari’s into the 1000th Formula 1 Grand Prix event.
No-one will ever be completely able to explain how performance levels can change so dramatically between race weekends. In Australia, Bottas was a long way ahead of Hamilton, in Bahrain the tables were reversed and now just two weeks later in China, Bottas is again the Mercedes driver with the speed advantage.
Taking his first pole since Russia last season–and the last time the Finn had outqualified Hamilton–Bottas is now in the prime position to extend his championship lead on Sunday.
“It’s been a good weekend so far,” said Bottas. “It felt really comfortable this morning in the practice. Honestly, in qualifying Q3 I was struggling to get the perfect lap in, but it was good enough. The lap was ok. Like I say, it wasn’t completely how I wanted but luckily it was good enough for pole.
“The car has been really good this weekend and Lewis also managed to improve a lot during qualifying and it was super close.”
Hamilton had struggled to match Bottas throughout the early stages of qualifying and during the practice sessions as well. However, setting the fastest time in Q2 appeared to give the five-time Chinese Grand Prix winner a bit of confidence back and it really was game on between the Mercedes pair in the pole battle.
Behind by just 0.007 of a second after the first attempt, Hamilton found a couple of tenths in the opening sector as he gave it one final push; but this took more out of the tires than he would have liked and, as a result, the lap tailed off towards the end.
“I didn’t give up,” said Hamilton. “I kept pushing right to the end. Big congratulations to Valtteri, he’s been stellar all weekend.
“I’ve been struggling and fighting the car all weekend. We’ve been chipping away at it and I’m much, much happier with; it was eight tenths the gap between us at one stage so to be as close as we were at the end is fantastic. It’s an incredible result for the team.”
It can now be said with a good amount of confidence that Ferrari has the strongest power unit on the grid, surpassing the Mercedes unit after dominant spell stretching back to 2014. On the straights, Ferrari have the advantage, but Mercedes have put a lot of work into their chassis and it was in the corners where pole was lost for the Italian team.
Sebastian Vettel will head the all Ferrari second row with Charles Leclerc just 0.017 of a second further back. In the first two races of the season, Leclerc has been instructed not to challenge Vettel, an instruction he obeyed once and went against once, so race day could be a little bit tense on the Ferrari pit wall.
“Right from Q1, they (Mercedes) just seemed to start off from a better place,” said Vettel. “I think we had a good session.
“I think there was maybe a little bit more but overall, not enough to beat these guys today. They’re pretty bloody quick in the corners so you choose but for us, when we get pretty close I think we have an advantage in the straight line so maybe we can do something there. The race is long so we take it from there and it should be a good day tomorrow.”
The front five rows of the grid all see teams flying in formation. Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault and Haas will all have line up two by two in the top ten before things get a little more jumbled up further back.
Two drivers failed to set a time during qualifying. Alex Albon (Toro Rosso) had a huge crash in practice three which damaged all four corners of his car so will start from the pits while Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo), who missed practice one on Friday after his power unit was incorrectly installed, remained stranded in the pits as mechanics worked frantically at the rear of his car.
|1||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport||01:32.7||01:31.7||01:31.5|
|2||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport||01:33.1||01:31.6||01:31.6|
|3||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari||01:33.6||01:32.2||01:31.8|
|4||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari||01:32.7||01:32.3||01:31.9|
|5||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing||01:33.3||01:32.4||01:32.1|
|6||Pierre Gasly||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing||01:33.9||01:32.9||01:32.9|
|7||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team||01:33.7||01:33.2||01:33.0|
|8||Nico Hulkenberg||Renault F1 Team||01:33.6||01:33.0||01:33.0|
|9||Kevin Magnussen||Rich Energy Haas F1 Team||01:34.0||01:33.1||No Time Set|
|10||Romain Grosjean||Rich Energy Haas F1 Team||01:33.8||01:33.2||No Time Set|
|11||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda||01:33.8||01:33.2|
|12||Sergio Perez||SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team||01:34.0||01:33.3|
|13||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo Racing||01:34.1||01:33.4|
|14||Carlos Sainz||McLaren F1 Team||01:33.7||01:33.5|
|15||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team||01:34.1||01:34.0|
|16||Lance Stroll||SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team||01:34.3|
|17||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing||01:35.3|
|18||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing||01:35.3|
|19||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing||No Time Set|
|20||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda||No Time Set|
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