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.