Qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix seemed, based upon FP3, like it might be a good session for Ferrari given that Sebastian Vettel had led the final practice session. Was Lewis Hamilton, a half second off the pace, holding back? Is Ferrari taking the fight to Mercedes? Qualifying might answer a few of those questions.
The lingering notion that one can never tell too much from the first race of the season as Melbourne is a street circuit and a bit of an oddity and it’s only in the crucible of a purpose-built racing circuit that the cars start to show their true pace. As such, many suspected that the Australian Grand Prix may have flattered the Ferrari as did their race strategy but the real team to beat was still Mercedes.
Qualifying started in dry weather, for a change, and a 1:32.2 was the race lap record to beat. Could the teams breach that time in Qualifying? While no one is admitting to it, did the FIA actually ban the trick suspensions and is that why Mercedes and Red Bull seem to be closer to Ferrari? Lots of questions.
Sauber and Renault were first out on super soft tire compounds while Ferrari opted for softs. Hamilton’s first attempt was slightly scuttled by Romain Grosjean’s spin on the front straight. This left Vettel at the top of the time sheet on initial runs just .255s over Hamilton.
For McLaren, the ERS system was only abe to deliver for about half of the long back straight and they were 10kph slower in the speed traps than the other cars. Fernando Alonso said he was driving like an animal and could go no faster but it was enough to get to Q2. Things were no better for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who had a power issue but the team quickly remedied it and he went back out but it didn’t work and max was still in 17th place and out of Q1 due to an engine software issue.
Lance Stroll took his Williams from 16th to 5th ahead of his teammate Felipe Massa with a very smooth, measured lap. The session ended when Antonio Giovinazzi crashed on the last corner scuttling final runs by Grosjean, Palmer, Verstappen and Ocon relegating them to the back of the grid. Oddly, Giovinazzi managed to make it to Q2. It’s difficult to be too harsh with Antonio, he’s had very little time in the car and he was trying to get on the gas early out of the last turn to make up time.
Finally, Palmer and Grosjean were under investigation for not slowing down for yellow flags through the Giovinazzi incident.
Ferrari walked into Q2 having used only one set of soft compound tires. Mercedes used super softs to achieve their times. For the first run in Q2, Ferrari dipped into their super soft compounds and so did Mercedes.
Vettel went to the top of the time sheet with Lewis Hamilton just a fraction slower by one hundredth of a second. Lewis’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas a tenth off Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen two tenths.
Felipe Massa took his super soft shod Williams to sixth just ahead of his teammate Lance Stroll in seventh. Alonso’s McLaren seemed to struggle with ERS issues while the two Toro Rosso’s were faring well in 8th and 9th.
Daniel Ricciardo slotted 5th on his run with Sergio Perez’s Force India was hanging on to 10th with four minutes left.
The final runs saw Toro Rosso, Renault, Haas, Williams, McLaren and Force India take to the track with 2 minutes left. Hulkenberg’s Renault leapt to sixth with Sergio Perez climbing to 8th. Lance Stroll made it to Q3 in 10th leaving Alonso, Carlos Sainz, Kevin Magnussen Marcus Ericsson and Giovinazzi out in Q2. Daniil Kvyat was able to make it to Q3 for Toro Rosso.
Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time of the session and broke the track record with a 1:32.181.
Lewis Hamilton claimed five pole positions in China and was certainly aiming to repeat it in 2017. The two Ferrari’s had other ideas as Vettel claims four poles in China and set out to equal Hamilton on five. Kimi Raikkonen’s last pole was 2008 and that was also the last front row lockout by Ferrari. Hulkenberg’s Q3 attendance was the first time Renault had been there since 2011.
Lewis took provisional pole on the first runs with Vettel second, Bottas third and Raikkonen fourth. Hulkenberg was holding 6th as Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo took 5th. Massa was 7th with Perez and Stroll in the pits.
With three minutes left, the cars came out for their final run although Hulkenberg and Renault chose only one run for the session. Vettel left the garage last with just a little over two minutes to spare.
Lewis set a terrific 1:31.678 securing six pole positions in a row and sixth in China. Vettel came second followed by Bottas and Raikkonen. Vettel’s lap, one thousandth of a second over Bottas.
Daniel Ricciardo settled for fifth with Massa in sixth, Hulkenberg seventh, Perez eighth, Kvyat in ninth and Lance Stroll in tenth.
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1’33.033||1.355|
|8||Sergio Perez||Force India||1’33.706||2.028|
|9||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1’33.719||2.041|
|11||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||1’34.150||2.472|
|19||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1’35.433||3.755|
|20||Esteban Ocon||Force India||1’35.496||3.818|
Photo by: www.kymillman.com/F1