Wet conditions added an element of expectation to qualifying in China and lent hope to Mercedes’ rivals hoping to challenge the Silver Arrows dominance of the sport in 2014; but it proved a forlorn hope as the advantage remained as big as ever and allowed Lewis Hamilton to cruise to his third pole of the season.
The Briton had topped both Q1 and Q2 while team-mate Nico Rosberg was left searching for grip and struggling, even spinning at the end of his final attempt in the final session. However, such is the colossal advantage held by the F1W05 the German still managed 4th fastest time on a day when no-one could hold a light to Red Bull and Mercedes. Daniel Ricciardo out-qualified reigning World Champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel again, while Fernando Alonso ensured Ferrari were best of the rest in 5th. Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas follow line-astern in an improved Williams that has previously struggled in the wet, with Nico Hulkenberg and Jean Eric Vergne in 8th and 9th.
Romain Grosjean ended the day 10th after taking full advantage of the tricky conditions to move his erstwhile uncompetitive Lotus up the order, at the expense of Kimi Raikkonen and the two McLarens of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen who proved hopelessly outclassed in the wet and ended up 12th and 15th on the grid. The MP4/29 took a further step backwards relative to its rivals in Shanghai and added further mystery to the seeming disintegration of the once pace-setting team.
Pastor Maldonado never got the chance serve his five-place grid penalty for hitting Esteban Gutierrez in Bahrain, after the fault that eliminated him from final practice earlier was traced to an engine component that will take ‘at least three or four hours to fix’ according to team sources. The penalty will be carried forward to the next qualifying session instead.
CLASSIFICATION – QUALIFYING – Chinese GP – 19th Apr 2014