Hamilton takes pole for Mercedes in China

13/04/2013
NEWS STORY

Ahead of today's qualifying session the air temperature is 28 degrees C, while the track temperature is 40 degrees. It remains sunny but smoggy.

Fernando Alonso was quickest this morning however, it is unclear whether yesterday's pace-setter, Ferrari teammate, Felipe Massa would have beaten him, the Brazilian having lost time behind Adrian Sutil.

Lewis Hamilton was third quickest this morning, a repeat of Mercedes strong form in yesterday's opening session, though the German team's mood was somewhat dampened by a hydraulics issue which meant teammate Nico Rosberg didn't get to set a time on the option (soft) rubber.

Sebastian Vettel was fourth, ahead of teammate Mark Webber and Adrian Sutil, who continues to impress, while Kimi Raikkonen out-paced the two McLarens.

However, when looking at the combined times from all three sessions the picture is slightly different, for Massa heads Alonso, Raikkonen, the Mercedes and Red Bulls.

On the whole, this would back up what a majority of the pundits here feel, that Ferrari has the edge over Mercedes with Red Bull third. Despite Raikkonen's clear pace, the Lotus looks worryingly unstable here, while McLaren still has aero issues.

As ever, tyres continue to dominate proceedings - though much of the media would have you believe that driver management at Red Bull is the most important topic in F1 this weekend - with some drivers finding the option tyres don't last a full lap. Consequently, we may well see a surprising number of drivers opt not to run in Q3 today, once making it through Q2, while we will also see drivers want to dump the options as soon as humanly possible tomorrow.

Behind the big guns - and we continue to include McLaren - Force India continues to impress, particularly as far as Adrian Sutil is concerned, even if Pitpass sources insist that all is not as it appears.

Sauber is clearly struggling here, with Toro Rosso edging out Williams, which, like McLaren, has much work to do.

Marussia, clearly benefitting from KERS this year, has a number of important updates here this weekend, Jules Bianchi making the very most of them.

Thinking back twelve months, when many were wondering when, rather than if, Felipe Massa might be dropped by Ferrari, it's amazing to think that not only is he being tipped for pole, and even the win here, but some are already wondering whether his return to form is unsettling his illustrious teammate.

In all honesty, pole isn't as vital here as it is at some tracks though it never hurts to be at the front especially with the combination of corners that follows Turn 1.

The lights go green and the while nobody seems eager to get to work there's a marvellous example of Product Placement in the Force India garage as Adrian Sutil waits patiently.

With no action and almost eight minutes of the session gone it is clear that everyone intends just one run… on the primes. The big guns were hoping that the 'minnows' would go out and clean the track but no such luck.

Finally, with 11:00 remaining, Bianchi heads down the pitlane, followed by Vergne, Ricciardo, Pic and Chilton. Rosberg is the first of the big guns to heads out, his Mercedes shod with options.

Bianchi posts 1:39.025 with Chilton posting 39.537 moments later. However, all eyes are on Rosberg who goes quickest in the first two sectors, finally crossing the line at 35.959.

As more and more drivers come out to play, di Resta goes second (37.478). However, Hamilton is already on a hot lap, the Englishman posting 35.793 to go quickest.

As Sutil goes fourth overall (37.545), Webber goes quickest in S1. Raikkonen posts 37.046 to go third but is quickly demoted by Perez, Button, Vettel and Alonso. In moments the Finn has slipped from third to tenth. Webber goes third with a 36.148.

A 35.972 sees Massa go third, two spots ahead of his teammate. All but Bottas have posted time.

With 1:40 on the clock, both Toro Rossos are in the danger zone as is Bianchi. The Mercedes duo have settled for their times, as have Webber, Alonso and the rest of the big guns.

Bottas posts 37.769 to go fifteenth, not entirely out of danger.

Vergne improves to fifteenth (37.508) dropping Gutierrez into the danger zone. Moments later Ricciardo goes eleventh (36.993).

Sutil, who finishes fourteenth, complains that Raikkonen ruined his lap.

Hamilton is quickest, ahead of Rosberg, Massa, Webber, Alonso, Vettel, Button, Grosjean, Perez and Hulkenberg.

We lose Bottas, Gutierrez, Bianchi, Chilton, Pic and Van der Garde. Vergne and, surprisingly, both Force Indias, only just making the cut.

As the lights go green for Q2 Vettel is the first out, the German sporting a set of options. Unusual to see the German out this early.

As the world champion comes to the end of his out-lap, he is joined by Webber, Hulkenberg, Sutil and Vergne.

Although he is quickest in the first two sectors, Vettel's times are nothing to write home about. He crosses the line at 36.260, around 0.3s quicker than he posted in Q1.

Hulkenberg goes second with a 36.929 but he is quickly demoted by Webber (36.679).

A 36.655 sees di Resta go second however, a 36.186 soon sees Alonso take the top spot. Massa posts 36.288 to go third.

Maldonado can only manage tenth (38.043), 0.7s slower than his best in Q1.

Disaster for Webber who has stopped at T14, the Australian having run out of fuel.

Raikkonen and Rosberg are both on hot laps, as Webber, who waves to the fans, is already slipping down the timesheet.

No sooner has Raikkonen taken the top spot with a 35.659 than Rosberg posts 35.537. However, Hamilton looks set to go even quicker, the Englishman subsequently crossing the line at 35.078.

As Webber slips to eighth, Sutil and Grosjean are down in the danger zone. The Frenchman the only driver yet to post a time.

While the Mercedes duo have clearly settled for their times, there's no such comfort for the opposition who pile out onto the Shanghai track. All bar the Mercedes pair and Raikkonen are on track, all on options.

Hulkenberg improves to sixth (36.261) but he is demoted when Ricciardo goes sixth.

Vettel goes second and Grosjean fifth, as Sutil drops to thirteenth.

A 35.148 puts Alonso second, thereby dropping di Resta into the danger zone and out, along with Webber.

Quickest is Hamilton, ahead of Alonso, Vettel, Massa, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Button, Grosjean, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg.

We lose di Resta, Perez, Sutil, Webber, Maldonado and Vergne. A disappointing session for Force India.

"Wow," is Button's response when told that Ricciardo is through to Q3.

Q3 gets underway, Vettel, as in Q2, first out. Having been quickest in Q1 and Q2, Hamilton must be the best bet for pole, though Ferrari has yet to truly show its hand.

As he begins his flying lap, Vettel is told to pit. It would appear that, as we predicted, the teams are going to play games in terms of not posting times. Not great entertainment for the fans that have made their way here or those watching on TV.

The clock counts down to 2:35, Vettel being the only driver to have made an appearance. All are on softs… all that is except Vettel who is on primes. That said, Button is also on the harder rubber. This could be a very, very clever move by the German and his English rival.

Raikkonen goes quickest in S1 and again in S2. Moments later, Rosberg goes quickest in S2.

As Hamilton and Massa trade fastest times in S2, Raikkonen posts 34.761 to take provisional pole.

Rosberg runs wide in the final corner and can only manage third (34.861) while teammate Hamilton posts 34.484 to go quickest.

Alonso goes third and Massa fifth while Vettel and Button both return to the pits, the German, along with Hulkenberg, not having posted a time.

Consequently, Hamilton takes pole, though with his first stop tomorrow due to take place within the opening eight or nine laps it's unclear whether it actually means anything. That said, the euphoria in the Mercedes garage suggests it does.

Raikkonen will start second tomorrow, ahead of Alonso, Rosberg, Massa, Grosjean, Ricciardo (wow!), Button, Vettel and Hulkenberg. Button is the highest starting driver on primes while Vettel and Hulkenberg can choose what tyres they start the race on.

Thankfully, what threatened to be a non-event and a serious embarrassment for the sport - the failure to get any action in Q3 - actually turned out to be quite entertaining, certainly a lot better than the media determination to turn everything that happens within the Red Bull garage into a conspiracy theory.

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Published: 13/04/2013
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