F1: Valtteri Bottas pips teammate Lewis Hamilton for Chinese GP pole
But Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, on pole at the Sakhir desert track ahead of the German two weeks ago, had to settle for the second row of the grid with third and fourth
Valtteri Bottas will start Formula One's 1000th world championship race from pole position after setting the fastest time on Saturday in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix. The Finn, who leads team-mate Lewis Hamilton by one point in the overall standings, set a time of one minute 31.547 seconds, 0.023 seconds faster than the Briton who completed a front-row lockout for Mercedes.
Ferrari had gone into the weekend as favourites after putting on a dominant display two weeks ago in Bahrain. But Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, on pole at the Sakhir desert track ahead of the German two weeks ago, had to settle for the second row of the grid with third and fourth.
"That's what I like to hear guys," said Bottas, who last started from the front in last September's Russian Grand Prix, over the team radio after being told he was on pole. "Let's make sure we finish the job tomorrow," his engineer responded. Saturday's pole was the seventh of the Finn's career and first in China where his Mercedes team have won five of the last seven races. It also makes him the third different driver in as many races this year to start from pole, with Hamilton starting from the front at the season opener in Australia and Leclerc on pole in Bahrain.
Bottas has looked like the faster of the two Mercedes drivers all weekend, ending Friday's opening day of running fastest of all. The 29-year-old also topped Saturday's final practice and each of the three parts of qualifying. Hamilton, who has won in China a record five times, in contrast, has looked ill at ease and was happy to simply get as close as he did to his team-mate.
"I've been struggling and fighting the car all weekend," said the 43-year-old. "To be as close as we are at the end is fantastic." Ferrari's advantage in Bahrain came mainly from their speed down the straights. While unable to match the Mercedes cars for overall pace in China, Vettel is banking on that straight line speed to help him on Sunday, especially with the Shanghai track's main straight over a kilometer long.
"I think there was maybe a little bit more but overall not enough to beat these guys today," said the 31-year-old. Max Verstappen qualified fifth ahead of team-mate Pierre Gasly as Red Bull locked out the third row of the grid.
But, with the field of cars bunching up, the Dutchman was unable to cross the line to start his final run before the clock ran down, which prompted a frustrated outburst over the radio from the 21-year-old. Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo were seventh and eight for Renault, ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean who rounded out the top-10 for Haas. Alexander Albon did not take part in qualifying after his crash during Saturday's final practice session left his Toro Rosso in a mangled mess. Sauber's Antonio Giovinazzi also did not set a time.
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