The top four for the Chinese Grand Prix mirrors the result for the front-two rows that lined up at the start of the Australian Grand Prix. Hamilton claimed pole convincingly from Sebastian Vettel, with Valtteri Bottas a millisecond behind the German, Raikkonen again lines up in 4th.
Hamilton seemed to have Q3 under control, his first run saw a small gap to the cars behind and when the others improved, the British driver was able to find another two-tenths and secure the 63rd pole of his Formula One career.
Ferrari looked to be the comfortable pole-sitters after topping Q1 and Q2, but in the top ten shootout, the Mercedes W08 found extra pace and Hamilton was able to string together a clinical lap that puts him in the best position to lead into turn one in what could be a wet race tomorrow. After the session, Hamilton said,
“It started off not as good as the first lap, maybe because of tyre temperature, but it got better and better. It felt strong, and coming into the last corner knowing I was up a couple of tenths, it’s always nervous because you want to gain some but you don’t want to lose everything you’ve gained.
It’s exciting for me because we’re really fighting with the guys and that is what racing is all about. It pushes you to raise the bar every time you go out, which I love.”
– Lewis Hamilton
Despite Ferrari’s struggle to secure pole, they can leave qualifying with absolute confirmation that there’s a title challenge this season. The gap over one lap is small, but the SF70H could still be the better car over race distance. If Hamilton is forced to push his tyres to the limit again, Vettel is in the perfect position to pull off another over-cut in the pit-stops, although a race start on the wet compounds will see pit strategy dictated by who can most effectively time the dry window.
It was an alarming session for Red Bull. Ricciardo was able to put his RB13 in 5th for the race tomorrow, ahead of another solid performance from Felipe Massa in the Williams, who beat his 7th place quali down under with a 6th place start in Shanghai. The alarming issue for Red Bull is that the Honey-badger was 1.3s down on Hamilton’s time. It was a poor session for Max Verstappen, who was eliminated in Q1 after a software issue in his power unit. The Dutchman lines up 19th tomorrow but could be one to watch, especially given that he’s renowned for overtaking and last year’s Chinese Grand Prix saw a record of overtakes. His drive tomorrow might give us a clearer image of the restrictions that the new regulations have on overtaking in 2017.
Nico Hulkenberg had an excellent session for Renault, securing 7th on the grid and with a wet race a high probability tomorrow, the Hulk is poised for a solid result. Sergio Perez was again into Q3 and managed to secure 8th place, one-hundredth of a second quicker than Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso in 9th. Massa, Hulkenberg, Perez and Kvyat were separated by a mere two-tenths, highlighting how tight the midfield is between these four teams.
Lance Stroll rounded out the top ten after beating Carlos Sainz into Q3. The Canadian is a strong contender for points tomorrow in only his second Grand Prix. Kevin Magnussen leads Haas but only managed 12th, a big improvement on his qualifying performance in Australia, but his teammate is in a lowly 17th, so the team will need a bit of luck to score points tomorrow.
Alonso once again drove the life out of the McLaren MCL32. After all of the pessimism surrounding the team leading up to this weekend, 13th isn’t too bad. If it rains overnight, Fernando Alonso could do something special, McLaren need to pray for rain as much as possible as these opportunities will help them in challenging for points and getting off the mark.
Sauber enjoyed their best qualifying result for a long time with both cars getting into Q2, but the mechanics will have a long night ahead trying to salvage Antonio Giovinazzi’s C36 after the promising Italian lost the rear at the final corner and hit the barriers. His accident was similar to Ricciardo’s in Australia. With the wider tyres, it appears to be much more difficult to correct the car once it gets into a slide. When it snapped, Giovinazzi was a passenger and the C36 was singleminded in hitting the wall. Another positive element of these regulations is that if a driver makes a mistake, the car punishes.
— ThisisF1 (@ThisisF1) April 8, 2017
Ericsson lines up 14th, but was seven-tenths down on Alonso ahead. Sauber are in a similar position to McLaren for tomorrow – rain would help them massively.
Qualifying has further evidenced that Ferrari are genuine challengers to Mercedes in the dry this season, but if it rains overnight and is wet at the race start tomorrow, the running order after lap one could be significantly different. It will be fascinating to see whether Verstappen can pull off an Interlagos-esque performance if it’s a bit damp. Pirelli mentioned in Practice that the Intermediate compound is seven-seconds per lap quicker than it was last year – If these drivers are having to push to the limit in the dry this season, seeing how the 2017 class behaves in wet conditions will be unmissable.