Lewis Hamilton narrowly beat team-mate Nico Rosberg to pole position as Mercedes dominated qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix. Hamilton has looked imperious all weekend but Rosberg closed the gap to just 0.042 seconds on his final run. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was third but nearly a second off the pace.
Williams’s Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas beat Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to take fourth and fifth as Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was seventh.
There is no sign as yet of Ferrari being able to repeat their surprise victory in the heat of Malaysia two weeks ago.
Vettel and Raikkonen are expected to be closer to Mercedes on race pace than they were over one lap, but Mercedes’ advantage appears significant enough to make them strong favourites for victory.
The ambient conditions are much cooler in Shanghai than they were in tropical Malaysia.
Rosberg entered the weekend determined to try to do something about a run of success for Hamilton, who the German has beaten only once since last season’s Italian Grand Prix in September.
His frustration at missing out by such a small margin in the end was clear. After being informed by his engineer Tony Ross of the margin, Rosberg said over the radio: “Oh, come on, guys.”
Ferrari v Mercedes – perfectly matched?
|“Ferrari won in Malaysia thanks largely to their ability to preserve their tyres better than Mercedes, allied to a pace good enough to enable them to translate that into a race-long challenge. And there were hints on Friday that this may become a running theme this season.|
|While Lewis Hamilton was on average 0.7secs a lap quicker than Kimi Raikkonen on their soft-tyres race simulation runs, the Ferrari hung on to its tyres better.|
|Hamilton was showing significant drop-off after 11 laps; Raikkonen was still going strong after 14. How this will play out on Sunday is a fascinating question.”|
Hamilton was 0.324secs ahead after their first runs, but failed to improve on his second lap, allowing Rosberg to close in.
Hamilton said: “We have a tough race ahead of us – the Ferraris are strong on long-run pace – so it is not over by any means.”
Rather than challenge Mercedes, Ferrari were left to hold off a revived challenge from Williams.
Vettel was 0.267secs ahead of Massa, who beat Bottas by 0.189secs. Raikkonen had a disappointing final run and was 0.545secs off his team-mate.
The German said: “Hopefully we can race them tomorrow. It is a long race and tyres are important. We hope to do well and get a lot of points.”
Outside the top 10, McLaren’s Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were 17th and 18th, failing to get into the second part of qualifying by just over 0.2secs.
That was a disappointment after improved form this weekend.
“The car didn’t feel bad so it’s interesting when you find a good balance but the lap time is not there,” Button said.
“We’ve made good improvements this weekend but qualifying just wasn’t for us. I’m relatively happy with the balance.
“Hopefully we’ll be racing the cars in front, but we hoped to be competing with them in qualifying as well.”
However, it marked another major step forward for McLaren – they were 1.7secs off Vettel, who set the pace in Q1, which marks substantial progress after being 1.5ecs off the next slowest team in Australia at the start of the season.
Button was 0.004secs quicker than Alonso, who missed all of final practice when an engine problem stranded him out on track on his first lap out of the pits.
Will Stevens beat team-mate Roberto Mehri by 0.8secs as both Manors qualified for the race.