Lewis Hamilton set fastest time for Mercedes today in final qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix. The Briton capitalised on mechanical woes for his German team-mate Nico Rosberg in FP3 to seize the initiative within the Brackley-based team and out-qualify nearest rival Kimi Raikkonen by 0.3 seconds.
The Mercedes duo have comfortably been ahead for much of the weekend so far, so it came as a surprise that Raikkonen, who struggled in Friday’s Free Practice sessions, was able to get so close to Hamilton’s time. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso threw down the gauntlet to team-mate and erstwhile ‘number 2’ Felipe Massa by beating him for the first time since Abu Dhabi last season, while Rosberg was playing catch-up in qualifying thanks to a hydraulic failure in FP3 that left him with no experience of qualifying-simulation runs.
Massa was 0.2 behind Alonso, with Romain Grosjean trailing his own team-mate but showing considerable improvement in form by lining up 6th; the real surprise of the session was Australian Daniel Ricciardo who put his Toro Rosso into 7th place, in the top-ten shootout for the first time since Bahrain last season.
McLaren’s Jenson Button will be the top driver starting on the harder, medium compound tomorrow after setting a laptime some 31 seconds deliberately slower than the pole time in order to start ahead of World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who also elected to go for the harder Pirelli tyre but decided not to complete a timed lap in Q3. Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top ten and also did not set a time.
It was a difficult day for Red Bull as Mark Webber had a less than successful afternoon, retiring from Q2 with a suspected fuel pressure system failure rendering his RB9 stranded out on track; the disgruntled Aussie will likely start from the back of the grid thanks to rules stating that cars that cannot return to the pits under their own power must take a penalty.
Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil sandwiched the second McLaren of Sergio Perez, with the trio heading up Webber, Maldonado, Vergne and Valtteri Bottas. Jean Eric Vergne and Valtteri Bottas were the first ‘big-name’ casualties of the first session, while Jules Bianchi again stamped his authority on the battle between Marussia and Caterham for the last grid positions.
|7||Daniel RICCIARDO||Toro Rosso||1:35:998|
|9||Sebastian VETTEL||Red Bull||No Time|
|10||Nico HULKENBERG||Sauber||No Time|
|11||Paul DI RESTA||Force India||1:36:287|
|13||Adrian SUTIL||Force India||1:36:405|
|14||Mark WEBBER||Red Bull||1:36:679|
|16||Jean Eric VERGNE||Toro Rosso||1:37:199|
|22||Giedo VAN DER GARDE||Caterham||1:39:660|