FORMULA 1

LCH BEATS VETTEL TO POLE POSITION IN CHINA

LCH claimed his second successive pole position of the new season in China. He was, however, pushed to the limit again by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who finished second, just one-thousandth of a second in front of Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton saved the best to last, setting a flawless pole lap on his final run in Q3 that Vettel was unable to match. But Ferrari have proved once again they have the pace this season to match Mercedes and with rain forecast for Sunday in Shanghai, the race could be a feisty spectacle.

“We knew it was going to be close,” said Hamilton. “It was going to mean we would have to pull out all the stops and really have a very, very perfect lap. I managed to just chip away at it from session to session. No major issues. But the last lap was my best lap, which is always the plan.

Lewis Hamilton’s battle with Sebastian Vettel could match F1’s great rivalries
“It is more exciting than ever for me because we are really fighting with these guys. It is amazing and that is what racing is all about, and it really pushes you to raise the bar every time you go out, which I love.”

The second Ferrari, driven by Kimi Raikkonen, will start from fourth but the best Red Bull could manage was fifth, with Daniel Ricciardo over a second back from the pole-sitter’s pace. Max Verstappen, suffering from a power problem in his Red Bull, was knocked out of Q1, and will be 17th on the grid.

Vettel, however, who started from second at Melbourne and went on to win, was optimistic for Sunday. “I think we can still improve. Let’s see what the race looks like tomorrow. The conditions will be quite different,” he said. “I think it should be an exciting race. The car is good, so I’m confident, no matter the conditions that the car is working, and we will try to do the fastest race.”

Hamilton has not driven on the full wet tyre this season, having not done so in testing due to an electrical fault on his car. Should the rain come on Sunday – and the forecast is that it is very likely – it will bring a fresh challenge.

“Tomorrow will be a new lesson for me to learn if it is wet and it will be interesting to see,” he said. “Ferrari have a very, very strong car, particularly a step up more so in the race pace and how they treat their tyres, particularly when it’s warm, so it will be interesting to see what the weather brings us tomorrow. Whatever the case it’s going to be close between us and that bodes well for one of the most exciting days to come for a long time.”

This was the 63rd pole position of Hamilton’s career, putting him only two behind Ayrton Senna and five behind Michael Schumacher in the single lap discipline. Hamilton’s time of 1.31.678 was two tenths in front of Vettel – with the new regulations having seen the previous lap record, 1.32.238, set by Schumacher in 2004, comprehensively demolished. The top four were separated by less than four tenths and clearly the pace Ferrari showed in Australia was not a one-off peculiar to Albert Park.

“It is more exciting than ever for me because we are really fighting with these guys,” said Hamilton. “It is amazing and that is what racing is all about, and it really pushes you to raise the bar every time you go out, which I love.