After a farcical Friday in Shanghai, the Formula One circus delivered some much-needed excitement in Saturday’s qualifying session and Lewis Hamilton put his car on pole position again in a repeat of the top three of qualifying from two weeks ago.
The Chinese Grand Prix weekend did not start well at all and after the Friday practice wash-out, we were owed some on-track excitement in Saturday’s qualifying session. The vastly reduced running on the first day pre-empted an unpredictable qualifying and the teams and drivers did not disappoint.
For the second race running, drivers from five different constructors found themselves out in the cold after the first part of the session. The back five are somewhat unrepresentative of true pace following Antonio Giovanazzi’s trip into the barriers at the final corner. Notoriously difficult to master, the last turn can sometimes put pay to your lap as Giovanazzi found out and the Sauber team have a big job ahead of them to ready the car for tomorrow’s race. Haas driver Romain Grosjean’s similar error earlier in the session nearly put him in the wall but he escaped with a puncture.
The Giovanazzi crash resulted in those on quick laps at the end of Q1 having to lift off and therefore not being able to better their times. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen suffered a nightmare day as his Renault engine’s software issue put him on the back row.
Fernando Alonso again drove the wheels off his McLaren, getting through to Q2 and he likened his efforts to that of an “animal”. Vandoorne (McLaren), Grosjean (Haas), Palmer (Renault), Verstappen (Red Bull) and Ocon (Force India) were the drivers unable to get through to Q2.
Scuderia Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen snatched the lap record from seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher in the second part of qualifying as he posted a time of 1:32.181 on the super-soft tyres.
The Ferraris were showing great pace as the Iceman’s German team-mate Sebastian Vettel put his Prancing Horse in second place ahead of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. In a much-improved qualifying showing, rookie Lance Stroll put up a middle finger to the critics as he squeezed through to the third part of qualifying.
Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso), Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Fernando Alonso (McLaren) and Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) were only good enough for 11th to 14th positions respectively and stand-in Sauber driver Giovanazzi was classified fifteenth as his earlier crash meant he could not take part.
First blood in Q3 went to Lewis Hamilton as the Briton drove his car to its absolute limits, drifting his Mercedes round the track as he straddled the line between incredible pace and going into a spin.
Hamilton’s supreme skills were put to the test as Vettel looked ready to pounce on the second runs, however, the triple world champion demonstrated his incredible one-lap pace with a barnstorming lap of 1:31.678 that put him on pole position. His time was quicker than the lead Ferrari by a couple of tenths and once again he did what was asked when put under pressure.
Sebastian Vettel qualified in second place by the skin of his teeth as Valtteri Bottas lurked just one thousandth of a second behind. With the Ferrari looking like the quicker car over a race distance the Ferraris will be quietly confident of repeating their Australian Grand Prix victory.
Tomorrow’s race looks like throwing up a couple of surprises with some potentially wet weather in store and we all live in hope that those at the front can fight toe-to-toe for supremacy with one another. The last race did not bring much in the way of overtaking but with a possible wet track and closely matched cars, we could be in for a classic in Shanghai on Sunday.