A thrilling battle between the Mercedes drivers saw Valtteri Bottas take pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix by 0.023s from Lewis Hamilton.
Having dominated the early part of qualifying, Bottas saw his advantage reduced to just 0.007s by teammate Hamilton on the first attempts in Q3, and Hamilton was then first on track and improving on the final laps.
Bottas hit back in the middle sector to hold a slight advantage, and Hamilton failed to improve his time, with the Finn finding an extra 0.016s to post a 1m31.547s and take his seventh pole position in Formula 1 for the sport’s 1000th championship event.
Ferrari ended up 0.3s off but there was a similarly tense battle between the two teammates as Sebastian Vettel’s 1m31.848s enabled him to edge out Charles Leclerc by 0.017s.
It looked like Red Bull — and Max Verstappen in particular — would threaten Ferrari as Verstappen was third quickest after the first Q3 runs, but then a congested out lap saw the team get its timing wrong as Verstappen, Pierre Gasly and the two Haas drivers failed to start their final attempts before the checkered flag.
Verstappen and Gasly will still make up row three after Gasly’s first first Q3 appearance for the team, but Haas will have to make do with ninth and 10th for Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean respectively — behind the Renaults — after not setting a time.
Both Ferrari drivers, Mercedes drivers and Verstappen will start on the medium compound after using them to set their best times in Q2, although Hamilton needed to run an extra set rather than get a sighter on softs having had a poor first attempt.
Nico Hulkenberg saved a set of softs in Q1 and will start from eighth, while Leclerc needed to use two and therefore didn’t get a sighter lap on softs at the end of Q2 in preparation for the top-10 session. Both advanced from Q2 though, while the battle in the midfield remains intense, as 0.022s separated Ricciardo in P10 with Daniil Kvyat as the first driver out in the second part of qualifying.
Sergio Perez will also feel there was more on offer after ending up 0.085s off Ricciardo, while Kimi Raikkonen, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris were all a little further back after the strong showing from Haas and Renault.
With Alexander Albon not taking part in qualifying as a result of his heavy crash at the end of FP3, there were only four spots still to be decided at the back of the grid. That soon became three when Antonio Giovinazzi — who had already missed FP1 due to an engine installation issue — returning to the pits before completing his first flying lap. Alfa Romeo worked on the rear of the car but could not get the Italian back out in order to set a time.
The Williams pair were as good as guaranteed to drop out but enjoyed a close battle, with George Russell pipping teammate Robert Kubica by just 0.028s despite delivering what he described as a “rubbish, rubbish lap.” And the gap to the rest of the midfield dropped to a second, with Lance Stroll the other driver eliminated as he failed to escape Q1 for the seventh session in a row.