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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.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.