Chinese Grand Prix qualifying: Hamilton seals inaugural pole position for Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton has earned his first pole position of his Mercedes career in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix.

Kimi Raikkonen will start alongside him on the front row, the first time he has done so since 2008. Fernando Alonso is 3rd, while the Red Bulls had a torrid session, struggling with fuel pressures and the option tyres. Sebastian Vettel is 9th, while Mark Webber drops all the way to 22nd after running out of fuel in Q2.

Here is what happened this morning:

Q1

Q1 saw a suspiciously slow start to the session, taking almost 10 minutes for a single car to venture out on track.

This was due to the option tyre being weaker than Pirelli had predicted, and teams feared they would only be good for one or two flying laps.

Eventually the Mercedes drivers set the pace, almost half a second faster than anybody else. Felipe Massa continued his good run of form,  finishing higher than teammate Alonso, while Webber and Vettel attempted to minimise the amount of time spent on track.

Jules Bianchi impressed again, running as high as 16th until the Toro Rosso’s final runs, but he was still within 0.7 seconds of Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber.

Drivers knocked out in Q1:

17) Valtteri Bottas – 1:37.769

18) Esteban Gutierrez – 1:37.990

19) Jules Bianchi – 1:38.780

20) Max Chilton – 1:39.537

21) Charles Pic – 1:39.614

22) Giedo van der Garde – 1:39.660

Q2

The second part of qualifying saw most of the focus on Red Bull. They started the session on scrubbed option tyres, landing them 5th and 8th places initially.

But disaster struck Mark Webber, who slowed to a halt at Turn 14 with a fuel pressure problem. It later emerged that Mark’s car was underfuelled, and he will drop to the back of the grid as punishment.

After a disappointing Friday, Sergio Perez was in for more bad form today, as he exited Q2 only 12th, while his teammate easily slotted into Q3.

Daniel Ricciardo impressed with 9th place, well ahead of his teammate, and the first time he has gotten into Q3 since Bahrain 2012.

Drivers knocked out in Q2:

11) Paul di Resta – 1:36.287

12) Sergio Perez – 1:36.314

13) Adrian Sutil – 1:36.405

14) Mark Webber – 1:36.679

15) Pastor Maldonado – 1:37.139

16) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:37.199

Q3

Again, it was a slow start to Q3, with only Sebastian Vettel venturing out on track in the opening minutes. However, he pitted soon after, indicating he was not about to set a fast lap in this session.

Nico Hulkenberg attempted the same strategy, while Jenson Button set a slow lap time on the primes to ensure he was to qualify ahead of the two Germans.

It was surprising to see two of the big names participate, but the other drivers weren’t so conservative. Kimi Raikkonen set the initial pace with a 1:34.7, but this was smashed by Hamilton by nearly 3 tenths of a second.

Nico Rosberg made a mistake in the final corner, and could only manage 4th, behind Fernando Alonso, who avoided being out-qualified by his teammate for the 5th time in a row. Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo went almost unnoticed in Q3, taking 6th and 7th respectively.

Obviously, Hamilton is in the best starting position for the win tomorrow, but he has some stiff competition breathing down his neck – Raikkonen, Alonso, Rosberg and even Vettel will also be in contention.

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