Sebastian Vettel led a Ferrari one-two and set a new track record in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, with the German edging team-mate Kimi Räikkönen by just 0.087s as Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas finished third ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
Raikkonen set the early pace in Q1 with a lap of 1:32.474, with the Mercedes cars of Bottas and Hamilton slotting in behind. However, seven minutes into the 18-minute session Vettel jumped to the top of the order with a lap of 1:32.171.
Vettel’s time was good enough to keep him on top for the remainder of the session, with Raikkonen eventually finishing in second, three tenths of a second behind his team-mate. Bottas was third and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen fourth ahead of Haas’ Roman Grosjean and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
There was a race against time for Verstappen’s team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, however. The Australian suffered an engine failure midway through the final practice and as the 18 minutes of Q1 counted down Ricciardo’s side of the garage was a hive of activity as his crew raced to complete an engine change.
Ricciardo eventually made into track with a little over two minutes to spare and his only flying lap of the session saw him clamber up to P13.
That became 14th place as Renault’s Carlos Sainz powered through to seventh place but the drop stopped there for Ricciardo and he repaid his mechanics’ hard work with qualification for the second session.
He would be joined by Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley who edged out of the drop zone and into P15 with his final flying lap.
The margin was fine, though, with the New Zealander finishing just five hundredths of a second clear of Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin and 0.88s ahead of his Toro Rosso team-mate Pierre Gasly who finished ahead of Williams’ Lance Stroll and the Saubers of Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson.
Raikkonen set the pace in Q2, with the Finn posting a lap of 1:32.286 as Ferrari and Mercedes looked to qualify on soft tyres and thus start on those sets. The Finn sat 0.099s ahead of Vettel, with a more comfortable Ricciardo, on ultrasofts, a further three tenths back. Bottas was fourth ahead of Verstappen and then came Hamilton. The Briton went for a second run on softs, however, and duly took top spot with a lap of 1:31.914 that put him just over a tenth ahead of Bottas, with Raikkonen third in front of Vettel, both of whom abandoned final runs on ultrasdofts. Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was fifth ahead of, Grosjean, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Force India’s Sergio Pérez and Renault’s Carlos Sainz.
Out went 11th –placed Haas’ driver Kevin Magnussen followed by Force India’s Esteban Ocon, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, while Hartley stayed in the 15th place he’d occupied at the end of Q1.
Raikkonen set the pace in the first runs of Q3, with the Finn finishing 0.161s ahead of Vettel. Bottas was third, 0.425 behind his fellow Finn, while Hamilton was fourth, five hundredths of a second behind his team-mate. Verstappen and Ricciardo were fifth and sixth respectively.
But it was Vettel who made the biggest step in the final runs. As Bottas failed to improve and small errors led to Hamilton abandoning his lap and settling for fourth, a lap of 1:31.182 looked to have sealed an 18th career pole for Raikkonen, but Vettel edged ahead, principally in the final sector, and the German claimed his 52nd pole and a new track record with his lap of 1:31.095.
With Mercedes in third and fourth, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took fourth place ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Hulkenberg was best of the rest in seventh place, ahead of Perez, Sainz and Grosjean.
2018 Chinese Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:31.095
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:31.182 0.087
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:31.625 0.530
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:31.675 0.580
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:31.796 0.701
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:31.948 0.853
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:32.532 1.437
8 Sergio Perez Force India 1:32.758 1.663
9 Carlos Sainz Jr. Renault 1:32.819 1.724
10 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:32.855 1.760
11 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:32.986 1.891
12 Esteban Ocon Force India 1:33.057 1.962
13 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:33.232 2.137
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:33.505 2.410
15 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1:33.795 2.700
16 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1:34.062 2.967
17 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:34.101 3.006
18 Lance Stroll Williams 1:34.285 3.190
19 Charles Leclerc Sauber 1:34.454 3.359
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:34.914 3.819