Lewis Hamilton overcame a fierce challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to claim Chinese GP pole and maintain Mercedes’ dominance of F1 qualifying.
Mercedes’ run of five successive Shanghai poles had appeared under serious threat when Ferrari, the Australian GP winners and early 2017 championship leaders, topped Q1 and Q2 but Hamilton produced a record lap of 1:31.678 to edge Vettel into second.
But Ferrari still start alongside on the front row for the second successive race as an exciting Q3 finale resulted in Vettel edging out the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas by 0.001 seconds.
Kimi Raikkonen disappointed in Q3 to take a relatively distant fourth, but the top two teams’ advantage over Red Bull – in excess of one second – meant the Finn still finished a long way ahead of fifth-placed Daniel Ricciardo.
Max Verstappen qualified on the back row after an engine software problem hobbled the power output from his Red Bull’s Renault engine and meant he set only the 19th-fastest time in Q1.
Despite expectations that McLaren would be fighting among the backmarkers, Fernando Alonso produced more Saturday heroics to qualify 13th – three places and 0.4s ahead of team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne.
Chinese Grand Prix Grid
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:31.678
2. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, + 0.186
3. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, + 0.187
4. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, + 0.462
5. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, + 1.355
6. Felipe Massa, Williams, + 1.829
7. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, + 1.902
8. Sergio Perez, Force India, + 2.028
9. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, + 2.041
10. Lance Stroll, Williams, + 2.542
11. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:34.150
12. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, 1:34.164
13. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 1:34.372
14. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:35.046
15. Antonio Giovinazzi, Sauber, No time set
16. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, 1:35.023
17. Romain Grosjean, Haas 1:35.223
18. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, 1:35.279
19. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:35.433
20. Esteban Ocon, Force India, 1:35.496