Shanghai Quali Recap: Hamilton wins pole, Vettel aborts Q3 lap

Lewis Hamilton (1:34.484) won pole for the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix in a set of qualifying sessions marked mainly by teams saving tyres for the race, but that ended with a single-lap shootout for pole. Kimi Raikkonen qualified second, with Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg completing the front two starting rows. Sebastian Vettel qualified ninth and will start on the harder, medium compound, tyres after aborting all of his Q3 timed laps.  Nico Hulkenberg also did not set a time, but Jenson Button qualified eighth after nursing his own medium tyres across the line.

Q1 started off with little fanfare, as no driver left pit lane until nine minutes had passed in the session. The top ten sorted itself out easily in that session, though getting out of the relegation zone proved impossible for Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Gutierrez. Mark Webber suffered a blow in Q2, parking the car with a fuel pressure issue two thirds of the way through Q2, leaving the Australian unable to move on to Q3, Ricciardo benefited from the extra spot, posting a lap quick enough to move on to Q3. Q3 saw Hamilton’s dominant fast lap in what turned out to be a single lap shootout for all ten drivers after the checkered flag.

Rosberg (1:36.717) and Hamilton seemed to have recovered during the long break, setting the fastest times of the Friday morning practice session at the Shanghai circuit. Webber, Vettel, and Alonso rounded out the top five, though an entire second covered only the top three at the end of the session.

Webber and the Mercedes duo spent much of the morning trading fast laps as all the teams took their typical good time getting out to start the racing weekend. Perez, though, suffered through both the morning and afternoon sessions, losing grip on the pit entry and damaging an old-spec front wing and nose into the barriers at the end of the morning session.

In the afternoon the new McLaren driver bumped across the gravel at Turn 8 and nosed again into the barriers before making his way back to the garage and then the running again.  Massa (1:35.340) took the honors in the afternoon practice, leading Raikkonen, Alonso, Rosberg, and Webber as the fastest five men. Their times were much closer, with just over seven tenths covering that top five.

In further McLaren issues, Button suffered a delaminated tyre and a sixth fastest position in both sessions. Perez was sixteenth fastest, then eleventh. Despite Raikkonen’s fast times, teammate Grosjean continues to complain of a lack of rear downforce in his Lotus, the third Friday in the three races to date in the season.

Alonso (1:35.391) took charge in the final, Saturday morning session, after Rosberg and Hamilton had led in the latter fast lap runs. Massa, Hamilton, Vettel, and Webber completed the top five. In the end, Rosberg couldn’t make his soft tyres work, and set only the fourteenth fastest time.

No one hotfooted it out onto the track as the twenty minutes of Q1 began. In fact, it took a shocking nine minutes of the session, as teams fretted about the state of tyres in the warmest session of the weekend to date. Bianchi led the way, with the Toro Rosso drivers and his teammate following. About half the field joined the circuit with nine minutes to go. Early runs by slower cars led to predictable, off the pace laps. Rosberg (1:35.959) finally posted the first competitive time with six and a half minutes remaining. Hamilton quickly pipped his teammate to provisional pole as the rest of the field joined the session.

The Force India drivers were third and fourth fastest with around five minutes to go, on the medium tyres. Raikkonen went third fastest on his first run, only to have Perez go a bit faster. Vettel next posted a time faster than either of them, only to lose his third fastest to Alonso.

The order and times continued to change behind the Mercedes drivers in the final minutes of the session. Massa sat third fastest, then Webber, Alonso, Vettel, Button, Grosjean, Perez, and Hulkenberg the top ten with two to go. Ricciardo, Vergne, Chilton, van der Garde, Pic, and Bottas (who had yet to set a time) were in the relegation zone at that time. Drivers began to pit again with a minute to go, seeing no need to continue degrading tyres.

Bottas soon moved himself up to fifteenth, with time for another lap. That dropped Bianchi into the knockout zone. Ricciardo managed to pop up out of the knockout zone, dropping Bottas and Gutierrez. In the end, Hamilton (1:35.793) had provisional pole at the end of Q1, with Rosberg, Massa, Webber, Alonso, Vettel, Button, Grosjean, Perea, and Hulkenberg the top ten. Raikkonen sat eleventh, with Sutil claiming that the Finn had blocked him.

Knocked Out in Q1:
17. Valtteri Bottas
18. Esteban Gutierrez
19. Jules Bianchi
20. Max Chilton
21. Charles Pic
22. Giedo van der Garde

Vettel led the way onto the track to begin the fifteen minutes of Q2, a minute into the session. Other drivers soon followed, leaving only a third of those still running in the garage with eleven minutes remaining. Vettel’s first time was a half second off Hamilton’s fastest time in Q1. Webber slotted in behind his teammate and faster than Hulkenberg and Sutil’s times. Di Resta split them, moments before Alonso posted the fastest lap of the session. Massa was two hundredths slower than Vettel.

At halfway, Alonso led Vettel, Massa, di Resta, and Webber the top five. Only Grosjean remained in the garage, though the entirety of the knockout zone had yet to set times. Webber parked his Red Bull in the marshal stand at the hairpin, having likely run out of fuel. His fifth fastest lap time (1:36.679) seemed unlikely to get him through to Q3. Meanwhile, Raikkonen then Rosberg pipped Alonso to provisional pole.

Most drivers were pitting for fresh tyres with five minutes to go, as Hamilton’s first timed lap (1:35.078) put him fastest, by a half second on his teammate. Grosjean remained in the Lotus garage. Verge in fourteenth was the first to rejoin with three minutes to go, followed by Hulkenberg in ninth. Ricciardo, Sutil, Perez, Vergne, Maldonado, and Grosjean were all in the relegation zone and heading back out onto the track with three minutes to go. Hamilton, Rosberg, and Raikkonen all remained in the garage, feeling safe with their posted times.

All twelve cars on track crossed the line before the checkered, leaving room for a single timed lap at the end of Q2. Vergne moved up to tenth from fourteenth, only to have Maldonado drop him out, who then did so himself. Ricciardo move up to sixth, dropping Hulkenberg to seventh.

Vettel soon split the Mercedes, then Alonso went faster than the German. Massa went fourth as Button moved up to sixth from sixteenth. In the end, Hamilton (1:35.078) retained his top spot, with Alonso, Vettel, Massa, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Button, Grosjean, Ricciardo, and Hulkenberg moving on to fight for pole in Q3.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Paul di Resta
12. Sergio Perez
13. Adrian Sutil
14. Mark Webber
15. Pastor Maldonado
16. Jean-Eric Vergne

Vettel was first out again for the ten minutes of Q3. He did not complete a timed lap, setting slow sector times before returning to the garage. He was the only driver to post sector times, four minutes into the session. Time continued to tick away without any on-track action until the mad dash out of the garage with two and a half minutes to go. Raikkonen led the way, though Vettel went out on the medium compound.

All drivers managed to cross the line before the checkered flag, with Button the last man to start his single flying lap. Raikkonen’s time put him fastest, with a 1:34.761, then the fastest time of the weekend. Rosberg could not beat him, having gone wide through the final corner, but Hamilton did, by three tenths.

Alonso slotted into third. Massa managed only fifth. Vettel did not set a time, having lost it into the hairpin. Button went very, very slowly, managing to post a time and start ahead of Vettel. Hulkenberg also did not post a time. Hamilton’s lap was six tenths faster than his fastest time in Q2, giving him his first pole for Mercedes.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix:

1. Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:34.4849
2. Kimi RaikkonenLotus1:34.76111
3. Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:34.78812
4. Nico RosbergMercedes1:34.8619
5. Felipe MassaFerrari1:34.93312
6. Romain GrosjeanLotus1:35.3649
7. Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1:35.99815
8. Jenson ButtonMcLaren2:05.67312
9. Sebastian VettelRed Bullno time13
10. Nico HulkenbergSauberno time11
11. Paul di RestaForce India1:36.2879
12. Sergio PerezMcLaren1:36.31410
13. Adrian SutilForce India1:36.40511
14. Mark WebberRed Bull1:36.6796
15. Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1:37.13910
16. Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1:37.19912
17. Valtteri BottasWilliams1:37.7693
18. Esteban GutierrezSauber1:37.9905
19. Jules BianchiMarussia1:38.7806
20. Max ChiltonMarussia1:39.5373
21. Charles PicCaterham1:39.6146
22. Giedo van der GardeCaterham1:39.6606
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