Lewis Hamilton claimed his sixth-straight pole start for the Chinese Grand Prix narrowly edging out Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton finished just 0.186 seconds ahead of Vettel while Bottas crossed the line only 0.001 seconds behind to take third on the gird.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen again qualified in fourth, while further back was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in fifth, Williams’ Felipe Massa in sixth and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg impressed to end in seventh.
Little Separates Mercedes and Ferrari
The opening round of the Formula 1 season in Australia set the scene for a tight showdown between Mercedes and Ferrari and qualifying in China proved that battle may well continue throughout the rest of the campaign.
Vettel produced the fastest times in FP3 and the early parts of qualifying while team-mate Kimi Raikkonen topped Q2.
But it was Hamilton who again delivered when it was required.
The Englishman turned in the fastest hot lap of Q3 to take an early lead over Vettel.
Both lowered their times on the final runs but Hamilton kept his advantage to claim a valuable pole start.
“The Ferrari looked so fast and we knew it was going to be close, and we knew we had to pull out all the stops and I managed to do a very, very perfect lap,” said Hamilton.
“It started off not as good as the first lap, maybe because of tyre temperature, but it got better and better. It felt strong.”
“Coming into the last corner knowing I was up a couple of tenths is always nervous because you want to gain some – but you don’t want to lose everything you’ve gained.”
“It’s exciting for me because we’re really fighting with the guys and that is what racing is all about. It pushes you to raise the bar every time you go out, which I love.”
Vettel was also pleased with starting on the front of the grid knowing that this year his car has the genuine capability to take-on Mercedes.
“It was a nice session. I enjoyed it a lot. I was very happy with the lap I had. Last corner I lost a little bit, maybe chickened on to the brakes a bit too soon – but we just had enough margin to make it on to the front row.”
Verstappen Has Disastrous Qualifying
With Mercedes and Ferrari setting the pace out front, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo could only manage to qualify in fifth a staggering 1.355 seconds behind Hamilton.
But qualifying was even worse for Max Verstappen whose Red Bull finished 19th due to a misfiring engine caused by an ignition coil problem.
Verstappen had to abandon his lap and to return to the pits early in Q3. He returned to lay down a lap time but limped around to end 3.755 seconds off Hamilton’s pace.
Alonso Delivers Again
Veteran Fernando Alonso threw away any caution during qualifying in a push to get his McLaren higher on the grid.
McLaren has been dogged with performance and reliability problems already this season but Alonso isn’t ready to give up the fight yet.
“I was driving like all the animals,” said Alonso afterwards.
“It is when you don’t care any more whether you have a snap or a spin or whatever.”
“I did the lap flat out in some corners, not caring too much about the risks over the limit. We crossed the line and I thought ‘Wow, P10’ that should be enough for Q2.”
But Alonso was lucky to take part in Q2 when his Honda engine failed fire. After further complaints of charging issues, the McLaren eventually got on the track to qualify 13th.
“P13 in Q2 is a big surprise for us with the expectations we had before qualifying.”
“Now we need to capitalise on this position and hopefully bring some points.”
“I think in the corners we are really good – as fast as anyone else – but on the straights we are the slowest by far.”
“The rain will be good for us I think. In normal conditions I think it’s unlikely we get some points. A chaotic race will help us.