(Mercedes AMG F1 Team)
Lewis Hamilton won the intra team battle at Mercedes in Shanghai on Saturday afternoon to take pole position for tomorrow's Chinese Grand Prix in what can only be described as extremely treacherous conditions. There had been the risk of wet weather for qualifying and when the session got underway it didn't disappoint. Hamilton set the benchmark time of 1m 53.860s to claim his third pole position of the season finishing just ahead of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian put in a fantastic lap to equal his best ever Formula One qualifying result, missing out on pole position by just 0.595s but more importantly he managed to out-qualify his team mate and reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel by over half a second. The result means that Ricciardo has real chance of challenging for a podium tomorrow as the race is expected to be dry and both driver's have shown that the Milton Keynes based team have made a massive step forward.
Championship leader Nico Rosberg was left disappointed after failing to match the pace of team mate Lewis Hamilton as the German will start from fourth on the grid. He appeared to let his frustration get the better of him as he spun on the start/finish straight bringing out the red flag just before the end of the session. However the weather conditions were very tricky at that point so that also played a factor.
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso showed that the Italian team are at least for the weekend, best of the rest as he will start the race from fifth on the grid, Kimi Raikkonen's difficult start to his Ferrari return continued as the Finn, who suffered suspension issues in practice yesterday failed to make out of the second qualifying session by the smallest of margins just one hundredth of a second thanks to a down shift problem with his gearbox. Raikkonen had admitted that he felt that he would be on the back foot heading into the session today and the F14T certainly appeared to be a handful. The team apologised to Raikkonen for the problem so it will be interesting to see if the Iceman can keep his cool in tomorrow's race and come through the field to achieve a strong result before the three week break.
In contrast to Raikkonen, it was a great day for the Williams Martini Team duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas as they will start the race from 6th and 7th respectively for the Grove based team.
It was another strong performance for the Sahara Force India of Nico Hulkenberrg as the German will start the race from 8th on the grid just ahead of the Toro Rosso of Jean Eric Vergne. He finished the last race in fifth place and had this to say about qualifying:
'A top ten result is always what we are aiming for in qualifying, so from that perspective I am happy to be eighth. It was very wet out there and I was struggling a bit with the car balance under braking, but all in all I think we're in a good starting position for the race. Tomorrow's weather should improve and we ran in the dry yesterday so we know what to expect and will adapt to any conditions. It will be interesting to see the tyre development through the race because graining is a classic feature of this track, but I’m confident we can work around it and make the tyres last'
The surprise of the session came courtesy of Romain Grosjean, who for the first time this season managed to get his Lotus E22 into the top ten shoot-out. In contrast, over on the other side of the garage Pastor Maldonado had a miserable day failing to make it out on track in qualifying as the team worked on resolving an issue with his car and as a result the Venezuelan will start the race from last on the grid although the team may opt to start the race from the pit-lane.
Kimi Raikkonen will start the race from eleventh on the grid just behind his former Lotus team mate and just ahead of McLaren's Jenson Button who will be disappointed with his performance as the 2009 world champion usually performs extremely well in wet weather conditions. It was a disappointing day all round for the Woking based outfit as Kevin Magnussen will start the race from 15th place on the grid.
Daniil Kyvat will start the race from 13th place for Toro Rosso just ahead of the Suaber of Adrian Sutil. Following his podium finish in Bahrain two week's ago, Force India's Sergio Perez was left disappointed with his performance and will find it hard to repeat his podium finish tomorrow as he starts the Grand Prix from 16th place just ahead of Esteban Gutierrez in the second Sauber. Perez had this to say about how his session went:
'It was not an easy session and the truth is that I’ve been struggling with the car balance all weekend. I think the wet weather today exaggerated those issues and it leaves me P16 and feeling a bit disappointed. I found it hard to generate enough temperature in my tyres and I was sliding around in each corner and especially under braking. The weather is expected to be better tomorrow so I am sure we can recover some ground and move up into the fight for points'.
Of the newer teams, Caterham's Kamui Kobayashi came out on top of that little battle as the Japanese driver will start the race from 18th place just ahead of the Marussia of Jules Bianchi and his Caterham team mate Marcus Ericsson who has never raced at the Shanghai International Circuit. Max Chilton in the second Marussia rounded out the timesheet's in 21st place.
©Ben Johnston 2014