Sebastian Vettel has qualified on pole for the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix, edging out Ferrari team-mate Kimi Räikkönen by just 0.08secs. Räikkönen’s time in the final part of qualifying seemed unbeatable, but the Finn was outdone by Vettel in the dying seconds.
Mercedes duo Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamiltom will start behind the Italian cars on the second row of the grid. Bottas was half a second off the pace in third as the Silver Arrows struggled to make the ultrasoft tyres work in their favour.
The pair of Ferrari cars set the pace in the opening phase of qualifying with Vettel a full 0.75secs quicker than third-placed Bottas in the leading Mercedes. After the leading the way in the opening practice sessions yesterday, reigning world champion Hamilton was over a second off Vettel’s pace in sixth.
Red Bull managed to pull off an engine change for Daniel Ricciardo after a suspected turbo failure just hours earlier in the weekend’s final practice session. With only three minutes remaining, Ricciardo only had one chance to reach Q2. Despite running wide at the Turn 14 hairpin, the Australian scraped through into the next session.
Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin wasn’t so lucky and missing out on reaching Q2 by an agonising 0.049s. Pierre Gasly couldn’t repeat his Bahrain heroics, only managing 17th for Toro Rosso.
The pair were joined by Lance Stroll in the other Williams and the Saubers of Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson in the elimination zone. Leclerc managed to avoid contact with the barriers after spinning at the final corner.
Both Ferrari and Mercedes opted to do their first runs in the second phase of qualifying on the soft tyre, as they considered different strategy options for the race. Ferrari held their advantage over their rivals despite Bottas and Hamilton each having a second bite of the cherry.
However, the pair found more speed immediately when the switched to ultrasoft tyres with Hamilton and Bottas going first and second. Räikkönen and Vettel were both on course to go quicker, but ultimately aborted their laps.
Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. left his final run late, but scraped into Q3 at the expense of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen as the top ten drivers were covered by just one second. Force India’s Esteban Ocon, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne as well as Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley all missed out on the final part of qualifying.
Räikkönen once again set the pace in the final phase of qualifying ahead of team-mate Vettel with Bottas 0.42secs off the pace in third and Hamilton in fourth. Hamilton aborted his second run after a mistake at the hairpin, while Bottas improved his time but stayed third.
Räikkönen was quicker than Vettel across the first two sectors and looked set to become the oldest polesitter in 25 years. However, the Finn lost time in the final sector allowing Vettel to snatch pole position by just 0.08secs, setting a new track record in the process.
“The car was amazing—it just kept getting better,” said Vettel. “The first lap I had some mistakes—I lost the rear at Turn 3, and then at 6 again. So I was a bit beaten up, but I knew if I got a tidy lap and bit of a margin I could push.”
Vettel’s record-breaking lap time ended Mercedes’ six-year stranglehold on pole position at Shanghai. It is also the first time since 2006 that Ferrari have achieved a front row lock-out in consecutive race meetings.
Max Verstappen beat his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo to fifth ahead of Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg, who will start seventh for a third consecutive time this season. Force India’s Sergio Pérez, Hülkenberg’s team-mate Sainz Jr. and Romain Grosjean in the Haas completed the top ten.