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Vettel ‘chickened’ on brakes in China Q3 lap, happy to split Mercedes

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Sebastian Vettel missed the chance to take Ferrari’s first pole position in Formula 1 in 18 months after falling two-tenths short of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, revealing he lost time at the final corner of his best lap.

Vettel took his first win for Ferrari since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix two weeks ago in Australia, defeating Hamilton in a straight fight as the Italian marque lived up to its pre-season pace.

Vettel entered qualifying in Shanghai as one of the favorites for pole, showing a good pace in the dry final practice on Saturday morning, only to finish 0.186 seconds slower than Hamilton in the final Q3 shootout.

The closer margin for Vettel was that to Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who finished just 0.001 seconds behind the Ferrari driver.

“Obviously it was a nice session, I enjoyed it a lot. If we had been a bit quicker in the end I would have enjoyed it more,” Vettel said.

“[I] think I was very happy with the lap I had. Last corner I maybe lost a little bit, maybe chickened onto the brakes a bit too soon. But yeah, obviously it was very close with Valtteri so good job we just got enough margin to make it to the front row.”

The qualifying result in China mirrored that in Australia, where Vettel looked stronger in the race, but the German said Ferrari’s SF70H car had no particular advantage in short-run or long-run pace.

“I think our car is strong no matter what. It obviously depends what these guys are doing,” Vettel said.

“Certainly we’ve seen in previous years in qualy they seem to be able to really get on top of what they have. I think we can still improve.

“Let’s see what the race looks like tomorrow. Conditions I think will be quite different, so maybe we should put fuel in the car and race now! I don’t know what happens tomorrow.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Sunday.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.