Bottas beats Hamilton to pole by just 0.023s as Mercedes lock out front row in China
In a thrilling qualifying session in China, worthy of the 1000th World Championship race, Valtteri Bottas secured his first pole position since Russia 2018, edging his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton by just 0.023s, with the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc around three tenths adrift.
Having never started on the front row before in Shanghai, current world championship leader Bottas put in a confident performance in Q3 to lap the Shanghai International Circuit in 1m 31.547s, and give Mercedes the advantage heading into Sunday’s race.
In fifth place was the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, the Dutchman left unhappy after backed up traffic prevented him from making a final attempt. His team mate Pierre Gasly, making his first appearance of Q3 this year, was sixth, but a full 0.841s off Verstappen’s pace.
It was a great qualifying for Renault, who locked out the fourth row of the grid in their own first Q3 appearance of 2019, Daniel Ricciardo pipping his team mate Nico Hulkenberg and ahead of the two Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, who didn’t set a lap time in the final segment of the session.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Stroll out for seventh consecutive race as Giovinazzi fails to make it out on track
With Alexander Albon not appearing in qualifying after his huge FP3 crash in the Toro Rosso, another absentee from Q1 was the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian’s mechanics working frantically on a power unit issue on his car until it became clear that there wouldn’t be enough time to send him out.
He was joined in the drop zone by the two Williams of George Russell and Robert Kubica in 17th and 18th, while Lance Stroll failed to make it out of Q1 for the seventh consecutive race, as he finished P16 in the Racing Point.
At the head of the field, meanwhile, Charles Leclerc was forced to go through two sets of new soft tyres after encountering heavy track on his first flying lap, ending the segment second to Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who posted a 1m 32.658s.
Q2 – Both McLarens out as Renault make first Q3 appearance of 2019
Having shown promising pace in Bahrain, McLaren found themselves on the back foot for the race in China, with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris ending up P14 and P15 respectively – the first time this year Norris has failed to make Q3. Also knocked out was a disappointed Daniil Kvyat in the Toro Rosso, the Racing Point of Sergio Perez and the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen – the Finn ending a 53-race run of Q3 appearances.
That was good news for Renault, both drivers making it through to Q3 for the first time this year, along with the Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, while the top five runners of Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Lerclerc and Verstappen all set their fastest laps of the segment of the medium tyre, which they’ll now start the race on.
Worryingly for Pierre Gasly, the Frenchman could only manage sixth on the soft tyre, half a second off his team mate on the mediums. He at least secured his own first Q3 appearance as a Red Bull driver.
Q3 – Bottas takes pole while traffic leaves Verstappen fuming
There’s been plenty of talk about ‘Bottas 2.0’ in 2019. And after his commanding win in Australia, we appeared to see the rebooted Finn back again in the final segment of qualifying in China. After leading the first round of quick laps in Q3 from team mate Hamilton, his second attempt saw him increase his advantage over the most successful qualifier in Formula 1 history to claim his first pole position since Sochi last year by a margin of just 0.023s.
Ferrari looked to be mighty on the straights in both Bahrain and here in Shanghai, but appeared to be playing second fiddle to Mercedes in the downforce stakes in Shanghai, Vettel and Leclerc both improving in their own second runs in Q3 but neither managing to get within three-tenths of Bottas.
Behind, Verstappen was left furious after backing off to give himself some space only to be passed by the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, and left unable to improve his time. That put him fifth, and ruing a missed chance to fight for what he thought was a potential P3 on the grid.
Happier was Daniel Ricciardo, who would have been chuffed both to have made his first Q3 appearance this year and to have outgunned team mate Nico Hulkenberg, who finished both FP2 and FP3 in fifth place.
The Haas cars, meanwhile, were unable to set a flying lap after getting caught out in the Vettel/Verstappen traffic jam. That left them ninth and 10th – although given that the American squad had appeared to lack pace early on in the weekend, they might not be too disappointed.
So it’s Valtteri Bottas with his first pole position of 2019. And after missing out on the win here 12 months ago, the Finn would dearly love to make it happen here this weekend, and stretch his lead at the head of the championship.
The key quote
“It’s been a good weekend so far, starting from pole. Felt already really confident this morning in the practice and in the qualifying. Honestly, I struggled a bit in Q3 to get the perfect lap in, but it was good enough.
“The car has been really good this weekend and Lewis also managed to improve a lot during the qualifying, and it was super-close.” – Valtteri Bottas
Lights go out in Shanghai at 1410 local time, which is 0610 UTC, with the weather forecast set to be partly cloudy, but a balmy 21 degrees Celsius. Perfect racing weather, then, for what looks set to be another fine – and finely-poised – battle between the Silver Arrows and the Prancing Horse.