Chinese GP: A qualifying charade
Lewis Hamilton made the most of the gift opportunity and claimed his first pole position with Mercedes.
Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus will join Hamilton on the front row ahead of Fernando Alonso's Ferrari.
Vettel chose not to set a time in Q3 and can start ninth on medium tires, while most of those ahead must use the fragile softs for their first stint. Don't be surprised, therefore, if Vettel passes everyone and takes the lead by around the 5th lap Sunday.
"We're obviously on a different strategy to the cars in front, whether that works or not we will see tomorrow, but I'm confident we did the right thing based on the facts we have," said Vettel.
"It was a different approach to normal in today's qualifying and it all came down to the last few minutes for everyone; it was very silent and then everyone left in a queue to start the lap at the same time – but not a problem. We have the advantage of choosing the tires for tomorrow, so we’ll see."
Q3 was a one-lap shootout in the final minute as all 10 contenders poured on the track at once at the last gasp on soft tires that only last one lap. However, only the top 7 had the soft rubber on. Vettel Hulkenberg and Button chose medium rubber and did not set a competitive time.
"An incredible feeling, I am just ecstatic," Hamilton said.
This was Hamilton's 27th F1 pole and his first for the Mercedes team.
"We don't have that speed right now," Raikkonen said, comparing his Lotus to Hamilton's Mercedes.
"The car felt competitive since Friday," Alonso said of his Ferrari. "We should be able to fight for the podium."
Qualifying Session 1
All the top drivers did only one fast lap in order to conserve tires for the rest of qualifying and the race.
The top six in the session were: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull.)
The six drivers knocked out of Q1 were: Valtteri Bottas (Williams), Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber), Jules Bianchi (Marussia), Max Chilton (Marussia), Charles Pic (Caterham) and Guido van der Garde (Caterham.)
Qualifying Session 2
Drama with seven minutes to go as Webber parked his Red Bull out on the track at Turn 14. It was suspected that his car had run out of fuel. Webber could only watch from the sidelines as he went down the order. He would end up 14th.
"A frustrating qualifying session for the team and for Mark," said Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
"Unfortunately in Q2 the amount of fuel that was required to be put into the car from the fuel rig was not fully delivered. This was due to an error with the fuel bowser that meant it under delivered 3kg of fuel. Therefore on Mark's in-lap we saw large drop outs in the fuel tank collector and the car unfortunately ran dry of fuel, which is obviously frustrating. The fuel bowser has been immediately quarantined for further investigation. It's a shame as he would obviously have made Q3 today and the tactic with both drivers was to adopt the same strategy.
"As we've seen this weekend the soft tire has had very good one lap performance, but very limited durability so we took a tactical decision in Q3 to run the harder tire. That means Sebastian will have freedom of choice to start on a new set of tires for tomorrow's race, which should be very interesting due to the different strategies involved."
The top six were: Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen.
The six drivers knocked out of Q2 were: Paul di Resta, Sergio Perez, Adrian Sutil, Mark Webber, Pastor Maldonado and Jean-Eric Vergne.
Qualifying Session 3
Vettel was again the first driver out on the track. And he was the only driver out there. He certainly could not complain about traffic! But instead of setting a time he came back into the pits. Still, even with his "non-time" he would be placed on the grid ahead of any driver who did no laps at all in Q3.
Everybody else was going to make one run at the end of the session. Or perhaps not go out at all so as to save new tires for the race.
Four minutes to go and still nobody else had done a lap.
With two minutes and 30 seconds to go, Raikkonen headed out and everybody soon followed him on to the track.
Raikkonen set the first quick time, but Hamilton beat that to win the pole. Raikkonen qualified second and Alonso third.
Rosberg, Massa, Grosjean, Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso), Jenson Button (McLaren), Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber) rounded out the top 10.
Vettel, who pulled into the pits before completing a lap, and Button both qualified with the medium tires, sacrificing grid positions in order to have the more durable tire for the first stint in the race.
Sebastian Vettel (9th, No Time): "We're obviously on a different strategy to the cars in front, whether that works or not we will see tomorrow, but I'm confident we did the right thing based on the facts we have. It was a different approach to normal in today's qualifying and it all came down to the last few minutes for everyone; it was very silent and then everyone left in a queue to start the lap at the same time - but not a problem. We have the advantage of choosing the tires for tomorrow, so we'll see."
Mark Webber (14th, 1:36.679): "It's very disappointing. Q1 went okay; I was comfortable with the car and we had a good plan for the rest of the session. In Q2 we lost fuel pressure so I had to turn the car off and couldn't get it back to the pits. I had to stop on the circuit, so qualifying was over before it started really. We need a bit of luck now; it's not the optimum starting position, but we still have to try to get something from there."
Christian Horner, Sporting Director: "A frustrating qualifying session for the team and for Mark. Unfortunately in Q2 the amount of fuel that was required to be put into the car from the fuel rig was not fully delivered. This was due to an error with the fuel bowser that meant it under delivered 3kg of fuel. Therefore on Mark's in-lap we saw large drop outs in the fuel tank collector and the car unfortunately ran dry of fuel, which is obviously frustrating. The fuel bowser has been immediately quarantined for further investigation. It's a shame as he would obviously have made Q3 today and the tactic with both drivers was to adopt the same strategy. As we've seen this weekend the soft tire has had very good one lap performance, but very limited durability so we took a tactical decision in Q3 to run the harder tire. That means Sebastian will have freedom of choice to start on a new set of tires for tomorrow's race, which should be very interesting due to the different strategies involved."
Thierry Salvi, Renault: "Today was a disappointing result all round but it happens. Unfortunately due to a problem with the fuel bowser on Mark's car, the correct level of fuel was not delivered to the car. Despite trying to save fuel on the way back we came up just short. We have a long race ahead of us tomorrow."
Fernando Alonso (3rd, 1:34.788): "To end qualifying with both cars in the top five is a result that fills me with hope for the race. The F138 has been competitive all weekend and that means we have made a step forward, which is down to the work of the team. Some of the updates we had here worked as we had expected, but others need further work. In terms of establishing what will be the best strategy, we will be in for a long night and that will be the case for everyone, given that almost all our main competitors will start on the Softs. I'm not concerned about Red Bull's choice and Mercedes usually has a higher degradation than ours. I'm definitely expecting an interesting race in which the biggest threat could come from Raikkonen as the Lotus has shown it manages its tires well."
Felipe Massa (5th, 1:34.933): "It was a good qualifying, with the car working well and being quick. To be honest, after my performance in the second and third free practice sessions, I expected to start in the top three, but it's very likely that our competitors were running with more fuel and it's also true that strategy counts a lot more than one or two places on the grid. Today's qualifying featured different choices: we preferred to use the Soft tire right from the first run in Q1, because it looked complicated getting through to the next part with the Medium. That has allowed us to save them for tomorrow in a race that looks like being very closely contested and where as many as three stops might be necessary. Today, our main competitors probably did better than us, but the race is long and anything can happen. Tire management and tactical choices will definitely be the key factors."
Stefano Domenicali, Team Principal:
Pat Fry: "It emerged from yesterday's free practice that the Medium would be the best tire for the race, both in terms of its consistency and its relative degradation. During qualifying, it wasn't a surprise to see how all the teams had decided to save this compound for the race, opting to use the Softs in all three legs. In Q2, after our first run, it wasn't easy to understand what time would be needed to get into Q3 and we preferred not to take any risks, doing a second lap. After this proved to be the safest choice, attention turned to possible strategies for the race and therefore whether to go with the Medium or to try for another quick lap on the soft tire to be sure of getting a better grid position. The latter option seemed the most sensible and that was confirmed when most of the teams did the same thing. I am expecting an unpredictable race because the cars at the front will have to stop first due to the degradation and the traffic towards the back could prove to be dangerous. I am extremely pleased with the performance of Fernando and Felipe and I am also optimistic for tomorrow, even if I expect a difficult race in which strategy and tire performance could play an even more important role than ever."
Jenson Button (8th, 2:05.673): "Our aim was to be the first Prime-tire runner on the grid - even if it meant qualifying 10th - and we did that. This was the best we could do with what we have. Nevertheless, I think we should be very happy with our qualifying performance: we don't really have the pace of the front-running cars yet, but finishing seventh in Q2 was really satisfying. And to out-qualify both Red Bulls in Q3, and with a two-minute lap, was amazing! All the guys in front will be starting on grained Soft-compound tires, and I think we're going to see the high-fuel graining on the Soft that we saw in practice yesterday, so it's going to be an extremely interesting race The first 10 laps tomorrow are going to be eventful; if I can get a good start, I'll hopefully be able to find some clear air in front of me, and then we'll see what happens."
Sergio Perez (12th, 1:36.314): "It's been a difficult weekend so far. I really should have been in Q3 today - but I didn't manage to find as much time as the others in Q2. That was frustrating; the warm-up of my tires before my quick-lap wasn't ideal, and I struggled to really pull everything together on the lap. Still, the tires will be difficult and unpredictable for everyone in the race tomorrow. It's going to a tough race, and a lot will depend on the strategy. I've got a great team behind me and I know they'll do a fantastic job to give me the best possible strategy for the race tomorrow. We can definitely do a good job and score some good points."
Martin Whitmarsh, Team Principal: "This was an extremely interesting qualifying sessions - for many reasons. Jenson drove beautifully throughout all three sessions: his seventh positions in both Q1 and Q2 showed that there is potential in our car, and that we can close down the gap to the leaders. Additionally, he comfortably got through to Q3 and then drove a disciplined lap, with one eye on tomorrow's race strategy, to finish as the highest placed runner on the harder compound tire. We believe that tire choice in the race could be decisive, and feel that starting Jenson on the Prime gives us a very strong strategy for the race. Sergio was unlucky to just miss out on Q3. It's been a tough day for him, but he's a fantastic and committed racer, and I'm sure he'll be doing everything he can to get back up and score some valuable points tomorrow. We've seen before just what he can do, and this weekend has shown that it should be no major impediment to start outside the top 10. He can definitely race strongly into the points."
Kimi Raikkonen (2nd, 1:34.761): "This is my best qualifying for the team which is good, but of course you always want to be on pole. It's been quite a tricky weekend so far and we've had a few small issues with setup, but it's always difficult to get things exactly how you want them and the car seems to be working well now. The tires will of course be the question mark tomorrow; some people are starting on the primes but we chose the strategy we think will work best. Hopefully we can keep managing the degradation well like we have so far this season and have a good race tomorrow."
Romain Grosjean (6th, 1:35.364): "Friday was difficult and we missed some time on Saturday morning so it's been a challenging weekend, but I'm finally back in business. We've been chasing some small problems here and there, but the engineers have been working hard and did a fantastic job to get the car to where it is now. My first lap on options in Q1 was actually my first of the weekend with those tires so we had to guess a little on the set up, but I think we did pretty well. Of course you always want to do better, but overall I'm pleased. The car was much better this afternoon so let's see what we can do in the race."
Alan Permane, Chief Race Engineer: "We're obviously very happy with the result today. Kimi has been comfortable with his car pretty much all weekend; not so much this morning when a small set up change was made, but that was reversed and he was back where we wanted to be. Romain had a difficult morning but with no real issues; just circumstantial problems which put things on hold briefly. He went into qualifying with a car that was unchanged from this morning, so bearing in mind his earlier tribulations he did a great job to take P6. We've done all our race preparation and run work so we know where we are in terms of both the soft and the medium compound tires; we're pretty confident on strategy and looking forward to running a very strong race. From second and sixth anything is possible; we will certainly be pushing to get both drivers on the podium with one of them on the top step."
Lewis Hamilton (1st, 1:34.484): "Pole position is a great result for us today and to achieve it in my third race for the team is such a good feeling. I had to make sure the radio was off after my engineer told me I had pole because I was so excited! None of us expected this level of performance at this stage of the season and it's a real bonus. The guys have just been working away, pushing really hard, and I'm so pleased for everyone back at the factories and here at the track that I've been able to deliver my first pole in a Silver Arrow. It would be great to convert the position in the race tomorrow but it's going to be a challenge and we're realistic about how tough the race will be. The soft tires don't last for very long, and with a couple of quick guys starting on the mediums, it'll be interesting to see how the race plays out. I'm looking forward to it and will give it my all."
Nico Rosberg (4th, 1:34.861): "A very good team result today and P4 is a decent grid position for me. I wasn't able to do my qualifying simulation this morning due to the hydraulic problem which was a bit unfortunate. So I needed to catch up through the qualifying sessions and find my way. I took some settings from Lewis for the initial set-up which worked out well. I made a small mistake at the last corner on my lap in Q3 which cost maybe a tenth and a couple of places. But I'm in a good position for the race and we've worked a lot on the race performance this weekend so I hope we can gain some places tomorrow. It's going to be an interesting race with some of the guys starting on the medium tires so let's see what happens."
Ross Brawn, Team Principal: "A great qualifying session for us today and all credit to Lewis, Nico and the team for a strong performance. It's a nice reward for all the hard work both here at the track and back at our factories in Brackley and Brixworth over the winter and in the last few weeks as we continue to develop the car. However there are no points gained on a Saturday as they say and there is a tough job ahead of us tomorrow to convert our qualifying positions. It's going to be a fascinating race from a strategy and tire perspective so we will wait and see how it plays out. Congratulations to Lewis today on his first pole position in a Silver Arrow, and to Nico for achieving fourth place and the second row despite losing his qualifying simulation this morning."
Toto Wolff, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "Congratulations to Lewis and Nico. We're really happy about our pole position today at the Chinese Grand Prix, which the team achieved for the second year in a row. Lewis's performance was excellent and Nico also did a great job to qualify in fourth place following a hydraulic problem which prevented him from completing his qualifying run in practice this morning. Today's results are a nice reward for everybody at the team who have worked so hard during the winter to develop the F1 W04 into a competitive car. However we will not get ahead of ourselves with this result as we expect an interesting race which will be decided by the different tire strategies. A few competitors have chosen to qualify on prime tires to run a longer first stint instead of the options which we and most of the runners used in Q3."
Nico Hulkenberg (10th, No Time): "I think it was a good and successful qualifying. If someone had told us before qualifying that we are going to finish P10, I would have not believed it. As we did not try to set a lap time in Q3, maybe there would have been more on the table. It was a good effort, a good lap in Q2. The updates the team has brought to the track worked pretty well and everything went smoothly for us in qualifying. I was reasonably happy with the balance of the car, so I look forward to tomorrow. We've done everything right with our approach in Q3 not to run and instead save our tires, which now gives us the free choice of tires to start with, which can be an advantage. Now we have got to make the right choice."
Esteban Gutierrez (18th, 1:37.990): "Well, it's quite a disappointing qualifying result. It was very challenging to put a first quick lap together with only one chance. It is very critical and I was trying to push a little too hard and ended up making a small mistake, which cost us a lot. I will improve on that side and make sure everything I am doing in the car is very precise. On top of that, it is very challenging with these tires. I feel very sorry for the team, as we had the potential to easily make it into Q2 and then to fight to get into Q3. The speed which shows the potential of the car is motivating, but we still need to put everything together, and that includes from my side."
Monisha Kaltenborn, Team Principal: "We are very happy about this result. During all practice sessions the team worked in a very focused way. After the last race our engineers put into place measures on the car and their effects have been seen here. This is a very important step for the team and also significant in order to exploit the potential of the car. Nico put in an outstanding lap in Q2 and showed our progress on the track. For Esteban, we hope he will get some opportunities in the race and will be able to use them."
Tom McCullough, Head of Track Engineering: "It's nice to finally have a dry qualifying session to see where we stand compared to our competitors. We've been working very hard to improve the car since the start of the season. Nico put in an excellent lap in Q2. With regard to the race tomorrow, we elected to keep new tires, and hopefully that will work out for us. Unfortunately, Esteban didn't make it through to Q2. It was very tight, and a small mistake ended up being very costly. But he will learn from that, and there are plenty opportunities for him tomorrow."
Paul di Resta (11th, 1:36.287): "I think P11 is a reasonable result considering the difficulties we had during final practice where our performance level dropped away. The changes we made ahead of qualifying improved things and in the end I just missed out on making Q3. I don't think that will make much difference tomorrow because it's going to be a race all about making the tires last. The good news is that we've got a free choice on tires for the start and our car has proved to be competitive over race distances, which means we can be optimistic of scoring points."
Adrian Sutil (13th, 1:36.405): "It's fair to say I was hoping for a better result, but for whatever reason the warmer conditions during qualifying did not work to our advantage. There was no major problem with the car and I felt happy with the balance, but I lost some performance during qualifying and didn't have the grip to go any faster. The positive is that I'm able to choose my starting tires tomorrow and I have all new sets available for the race, which should allow us to target some points in the race."
Robert Fernley, Deputy Team Principal: "It has proved difficult to gauge our true performance level during the practice sessions, but we expected to be a bit more competitive this afternoon. Paul and his crew did an excellent job to solve the set-up issues that held them back in final practice and in qualifying he was on the cusp of making Q3. Adrian's relative lack of performance compared to this morning is a little more mysterious so we need to investigate that in more detail. All considered we are in reasonable shape for the race, especially when you consider the role that tire performance will play and the variations in strategy. We know our car is competitive over long runs and with lots of new tires at our disposal there's every chance to move up the field and claim some points."
Pastor Maldonado (15th, 1:37.139): "I got everything I could out of the car today. I was hoping for a better result but we couldn't quite put it all together in Q2. It's not where we want to be so we need to work very hard. We've been working hard already but we need time to turn things around. We have a good amount of new tires for tomorrow and the tires are very sensitive here, so that could make the race very interesting. Anything can happen tomorrow and we will do our very best."
Valtteri Bottas (17th, 1:37.769): "We left the run quite late in Q1 as everyone else also left it late before heading back out and we were waiting for the track conditions to improve. However, with only one lap to get everything right it was quite a difficult situation. The wind conditions made it tricky to get the perfect lap as I was trying to push hard and it's a new experience for me to have to put everything together in just one lap. The conditions were different to FP3 and I didn't make the most of qualifying. Now we are focused on getting the strategy right for the race to make the most of the new tires we have."
Mike Coughlan, Technical Director: "In a close grid where you only get a single lap in qualifying, any small mistakes are punished. We feel we have a much better set-up for the race on the hard tire rather than on the soft tire. We are aiming to deliver a better performance tomorrow. We know we still have more lap time to find but we are working hard at it."
Daniel Ricciardo (7th, 1:35.998): "It's nice to be in Q3. It's the first time since Bahrain last year that I've made it to the top ten, so that's nearly a whole year. I am definitely looking forward to having a strong race tomorrow and will give it all I've got to make the most of this seventh place on the grid. I think it will be an exciting race and today, you could see that most of us waited until the last moments in Q3 to go out, with everyone thinking about saving tires for tomorrow, as the Options were having a hard time on a long run on Friday. This result will boost everyone's spirits, and mine as well and I really can't wait for the lights to go out tomorrow! The guys have been working so hard back at the factory and they've made the car quicker, so well done to everyone."
Jean-Eric Vergne (16th, 1:37.199): "That was disappointing, because I've been on the pace since Friday, something didn't feel quite right on the car this afternoon. However, I am sure we can sort things out for tomorrow and when you see where my team-mate qualified then that has to be a positive sign for tomorrow, because the car is clearly working well. There will be plenty of opportunities to do something from here in the race. The tire situation is quite complicated and we will have to see how to make the most of them, because the right strategy will be the biggest factor tomorrow afternoon. What we can say is that the car has definitely improved compared to the first two races."
James Key, Technical Director: "We brought some relatively subtle changes here that improved on the hardware we had for the first two races which we hoped would allow us to make a good step forward and overall, they have. We didn't expect to be significantly better here, as this track has traditionally been difficult for us. However, all weekend our performance has been reasonable and we had a smoother time from Friday to Saturday than at the previous races and the car is responding well to changes. Daniel put in a fantastic effort, doing everything right and finding a huge amount of time with each new tire set. It was a well controlled drive and he thoroughly deserves to have got to Q3 and a seventh place on the grid. It's also great news for the team, as we have all been working very hard at the track and the factory, because we knew we could do better than in the first two races. It was really unfortunate for Jev, who up until this afternoon was on the same pace as his team-mate. However, we've come from sixteenth on the grid to score points on Sunday, so we can remain optimistic. Inevitably with the spread between our cars on the grid, we will be looking at two different strategies for tomorrow. The Option tire is something of an unknown, while Friday showed that the Prime is lasting quite well."
Charles Pic (21st, 1:39.614): "We've had quite a few issues all weekend and they've hurt our ability to get the most out of the car here, particularly with the tires. We tried a couple of different setup options in FP3 and the car balance felt better this morning than it had yesterday but between FP3 and qualifying the tire behavior changed again and we really couldn't get them to work. In qualifying we did both runs on the soft tires but I had traffic on my first run which meant I didn't have a clean lap. On the second run I improved my time but I still had oversteer on the exits of most of the corners and more traffic in both sectors one and two which basically ruined that lap. Even with the package we have now we know there's more performance in the car so days like today are frustrating, but we'll just have to work harder, improve where we can and focus on putting in a good performance tomorrow."
Giedo van der Garde (22nd, 1:39.660): "After two productive sessions yesterday I just couldn't get the same feeling from the car in FP3 and that carried over into qualifying. Like Charles, I've had quite a few small problems in each session and together they've held us back quite a bit. We're struggling to understand the tire behavior here and when the track temps went up today it was like having to start again with our understanding of how to get them working. My final position in quali is obviously disappointing, particularly as I made a mistake in turn two on my second run, pushing too hard into the corner and that cost me about four tenths. Without that I'd have finished a bit higher up the grid but now we have to focus on tomorrow's race and aim for the same sort of performance we put in at the last race in Malaysia."
Jules Bianchi (19th, 1:38.780): "I am happy with where we ended up on the grid for tomorrow's race, but I am a little disappointed with my lap to be honest. I made a small mistake which cost me lap time and there was certainly more to come. I think we have struggled a little more today perhaps, but I have confidence in our race pace and so I am looking forward to tomorrow's race. It will be key to get a good start and ensure the cars behind us stay behind us, then I am sure we can continue our trend of getting closer to the cars in front and hopefully feel the full benefit of our upgrades. I think it could be an interesting race generally because of the tires and the track conditions, and I hope we will be able to take advantage of some circumstances which might work in our favor."
Max Chilton (20th, 1:39.537): "It would be easy to focus on the negatives from today, but given the challenges we've faced on my side of the garage so far this weekend I'm more encouraged by what we 'have' achieved when you consider how little running we've had. The target was to stay the right side of the Caterhams, which I did, despite only having the one run of three laps. Although it has been frustrating, at least this means that we'll start ahead of them on the grid tomorrow and hopefully we'll be able to make use of our strong race pace to stay there. Fingers crossed we'll get a clear run at the race, which I'm looking forward to."
John Booth, Team Principal: "Today has certainly been far from the perfect day for our Team, although on one hand it is interesting that we use different benchmarks to reach that conclusion than might have been the case last year. With both cars we are disappointed with our qualifying. There was certainly more time to come from Jules' lap, but the balance wasn't quite there on his second run. With Max, I'm disappointed to say that we experienced another issue, which unfortunately prevented him from starting his second qualifying run. We are busy analyzing the data and parts on the car to fully understand the problem and we will do everything possible to make sure his car is in good order for tomorrow's race. Overall, I suppose we can be happy that we are in the positions we need to be in for the start of the race, however we can't help feeling that we missed out on quite a bit of potential today. We hope for better things tomorrow."
Feedback can be sent to email@example.com
Go to our forums to discuss this article