Lewis Hamilton has secured pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix with a brilliant display during qualifying, taming the wet conditions in Shanghai on Saturday.
The British driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:53.860 to see off the challenge of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in the wet conditions, whilst two mistakes from Nico Rosberg in the final session meant that he was forced to settle for fourth place on the grid.
In a session defined by the weather, Mercedes’ dominance was threatened by Red Bull and Ferrari at times, but ultimately Hamilton managed to keep his cool and secure his 34th career pole position.
As the green light went on to start qualifying for the Chinese GP, the teams faced a choice between intermediate and wet tires as rain continued to fall over the Shanghai International Circuit. However, Pastor Maldonado’s session was over before it started following an engine problem during FP3 that forced him to sit out of qualifying, thus continuing his streak of Q1 drop-outs in 2014. Nico Rosberg quickly set about proving Mercedes’ wet weather pace by setting the first serious benchmark time of 1:56.351, and teammate Lewis Hamilton slotted into second place ahead of Fernando Alonso.
The drivers continued to find their way through the spray, but some had off-track excursions due to the lack of grip. A drying line soon began to emerge though, allowing them to improve their times, and Sebastian Vettel jumped to the top of the timesheets with four minutes to go. Hamilton restored Mercedes’ advantage with one minute reamaining, and ultimately finished the first session on top ahead of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.
At first, Caterham was the only team to fit a set of intermediate tires, but Sauber soon followed this example with Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil in an attempt to make it into Q2. With just a couple of minutes to go, Jules Bianchi posted an impressive lap on the intermediates despite losing a lot of time at the final corner, signalling to the field that it was time to make the switch. In the end, Gutierrez was the major casualty after a mistake on his final lap meant that he could not improve, and as a result dropped out of Q1 alongside the Marussia and Caterham drivers.
In the sole remaining Sauber, Adrian Sutil was the first driver out in Q2 on intermediate tires, and it looked set to be the compound of choice in the session as rain continued to fall. Hamilton and Rosberg continued to display the wet weather pace of the Mercedes W05 car to move up to P1 and P2 with their first lap times, and enjoy a comfortable gap to their rivals.
A number of drivers still continued to struggle in the wet conditions. Fernando Alonso put one wheel of his Ferrari on the slippery white line and lost time, whilst Romain Grosjean made a similar error in his Lotus. Vettel managed to keep his head and split the Mercedes drivers at the top of the timesheets, but with five minutes to go, none of the drivers appeared to be assured of their place in Q3.
In the final set of runs, Jean-Eric Vergne and Nico Hulkenberg both improved to move into the top ten, and as a result both McLarens were pushed down into the dropzone. Neither Jenson Button nor Kevin Magnussen could improve in the spray, and both dropped out in Q2 as a result. Kimi Raikkonen also languished down in 11th place for Ferrari, but Romain Grosjean produced a fine display to secure Lotus’ first top ten grid slot of the season.
Ahead of Q3, the rain grew heavier, once again presenting the teams with a dilemma between intermediate and wet tires. Sebastian Vettel set an immediate benchmark of 1:54.981 for Red Bull through the spray, and when Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso both fell short, it appeared that an upset could be on the cards. Lewis Hamilton soon redressed the balance with a spectacular lap that earned him provisional pole by six-tenths of a second ahead of the final run in Q3.
With a fresh set of tires, the drivers began to find more grip and improve their times. Rosberg’s first attempt was ruined by a lock-up, allowing Daniel Ricciardo to move up to P2. Hamilton extended his lead to move over one second clear of the field, but his rivals still had one final lap to make up the deficit. Ultimately, Ricciardo could not bridge this gap and finished some six-tenths clear, whilst a spin for Rosberg meant that he had to settle for fourth place on the grid behind Vettel.
Hamilton has broken the British record for the most pole positions with this result, moving ahead of Scottish legend Jim Clark who previously held the record with 33. It also marks Hamilton’s third pole position in four races, and he will be keen on converting it into his third win of the year tomorrow.
You can watch the Chinese Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra tomorrow live from 2:30am ET.