Photo: Mercedes AMG Motorsport

What to watch for: Chinese Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 1am ET)

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Lewis Hamilton continued to edge his way towards the all-time record for pole positions in Formula 1 in qualifying on Saturday in China, bagging the 63rd of his career with a stunning display in Shanghai.

Hamilton saw off challenges from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to take his sixth straight pole and sixth at the Chinese Grand Prix, and is now just five behind Michael Schumacher in the all-time poles list.

Following the drab Friday that offered just 21 minutes of track action in China, qualifying proved a good remedy as Hamilton and Vettel once again duked for top honors at the front of the grid as they did in Australia.

With the fight set to continue on Sunday in Shanghai, the stage is set for a thrilling race – and if rain hits, it could even be a classic.

You can watch the Chinese Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Sunday.

2017 Chinese Grand Prix – What to watch for

Eyes on the sky as rain seems certain

With the battle between Ferrari and Mercedes posed to rage on, it seems likely that the 2017 pack leaders will do so in the wet today, offering a tantalizing prospect.

Friday’s washout caused concern about the race going ahead at all due to a 90 percent chance of rain, yet with winds set to be up, the cloud cover should be higher above Shanghai, meaning there won’t be a repeat of the wait-around-athon that marred FP2.

“Proper” wet races are always hugely exciting in F1, but this one will have an extra edge. Not only do we now have two teams going head-to-head instead of it being the all-Mercedes battle we got used to in recent years, and not only do we have the new, faster cars for 2017, but the wider Pirelli tires are also set to add an unknown quantity for all drivers.

No driver has completed extensive running on the wet compound, with the attempt to dampen the track in testing not going to plan. It’s a big, big question mark for everyone – and could be a great equalizer.

Memories of Brazil make Verstappen a threat

An engine misfire issue left Max Verstappen down on power for qualifying, limiting the Red Bull driver to a lowly P19 in Q1 before gaining two positions after Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer were hit with grid penalties.

Red Bull may have lacked the pace to battle with Mercedes and Ferrari at the front of the field so far this season, but with Verstappen’s wet-weather wonder in Brazil last year still strong in the memory, it’s impossible not to think of the Dutchman as a possible player in Sunday’s race.

Verstappen produced a career-defining drive on that damp day at Interlagos, akin to Senna at Monaco in 1984 or Schumacher at Spa in 1991. And while victory – or, for that matter, even a podium – may be out of reach given Red Bull’s deficit to the top teams, a charge from 17th to the top five is not out of the question.

Oh, and even if it doesn’t rain – Verstappen starting from so far back will be the true test of whether or not overtaking is really possible in F1 this year.

How bad will things be for McLaren?

It’s the same question we had in Melbourne, but it remains a key talking point. McLaren insisted its woes were masked in Australia due to the unique nature of the Albert Park street course, with a truer test coming in China. While Stoffel Vandoorne ailed to another Q1 dropout, Fernando Alonso did his usual trick of dragging the car further up the grid than expected, finishing 13th in Q2.

Should things stay dry on Sunday, McLaren fully expects to be sitting well outside of the points, with the speed deficit on the back straight being particularly punishing for the team. While rain should mask the deficiencies of the Honda power unit a bit, without any change in conditions, it’s hard to see McLaren rising towards the top 10.

Alonso has called on the team to take every risk it can and roll the dice at every opportunity in China – and you can’t blame him. Keep an ear out for his radio calls today.

New standing start procedure could debut

Should heavy rain hit the start of Sunday’s race, F1 could be set to debut its new standing start procedure introduced following calls for more exciting responses to wet races.

As in previous years, if the race must start behind the safety car, it will officially begin on Lap 1 without a formation lap. However, when the track is deemed dry enough for the race to go ahead, instead of the safety car simply peeling in and releasing the field, the cars will now line up on the grid as normal and start the race as they would in dry conditions.

It’s definitely an exciting addition to race weekends, giving fans the excitement of a standing start whatever the weather.

2017 Chinese Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
6. Felipe Massa Williams
7. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
8. Sergio Perez Force India
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
10. Lance Stroll Williams
11. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
12. Kevin Magnussen Haas
13. Fernando Alonso McLaren
14. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
15. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
16. Max Verstappen Red Bull
17. Esteban Ocon Force India
18. Antonio Giovinazzi Sauber**
19. Romain Grosjean Haas*
20. Jolyon Palmer Renault*

* Grosjean and Palmer both received a five-place grid penalty for failing to slow for yellow flags in Q1.
** Giovinazzi took a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change overnight.

You can watch the Chinese Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton tops second Abu Dhabi F1 practice with new track record

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Lewis Hamilton swept to the top of the timesheets in second Formula 1 practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday evening, beating Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel by one-tenth of a second.

Hamilton trailed Vettel through the daytime-run opening practice session, but managed to strike back by recording a new track record at the Yas Marina Circuit for Mercedes.

Hamilton recorded a fastest lap time of 1:37.877 to finish one-tenth of a second clear of Vettel at the checkered flag, appearing to have an edge across a single lap on the ultra-soft tire.

Red Bull threw its hat into the ring as a possible rival for pole through Daniel Ricciardo, who finished the session third-fastest, three-tenths of a second back from Hamilton at the head of the field.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP2 in fourth place in the sister Ferrari, finishing within half a second of Hamilton, and managed to edge out fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was a further two-tenths back in P5.

Max Verstappen failed to get in a quick flying lap during FP2, ending the session one second down in P6 for Red Bull.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon’s tight intra-team fight at Force India continued through FP2 as the pair were separated by just 0.01 seconds, taking seventh and eighth respectively to finish as the leading midfield drivers.

Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 for Renault and McLaren, with Felipe Massa following in 11th for Williams on his final Friday appearance in F1.

Massa was fortunate to avoid an accident with Ricciardo during the final 15 minutes of the session after a mix up at the hairpin when the Brazilian tried to get a wider line for the back straight.

Running in Abu Dhabi continues with final practice at Yas Marina on Saturday morning from 5am ET on the NBC Sports app, followed by qualifying at 8am ET on NBCSN.