Lewis Hamilton has again stormed to pole position, this time at the Shanghai circuit in China. Beating both Ferraris to the top position, the McLaren driver was fastest in all three qualifying sessions. Kimi Raikkonen will line up alongside the Briton on the front row, just as he did last weekend in Japan. In third is championship rival Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso placed his Renault in fourth. Heikki Kovalainen will start in fifth after a disappointing run in the final stint.
It was a McLaren one-two in the first stage of qualifying, Hamilton leading his team mate Kovalainen at the top of the timing sheet. The Ferraris appeared to be off-colour, with both Massa and Raikkonen 0.4s off the pace of the McLaren. There were no particularly big dramas in Q1, although David Coulthard felt that Nick Heidfeld had baulked him before entering the pitlane. As a result, Coulthard had some strong words to say about his BMW rival and the Scot failed to get into Q2.
Other drivers to miss the cut were both recently retained Force India drivers, Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil. Fisichella will start at the back with his team mate alongside in nineteenth. Jenson Button also continued his disappointing year with eighteenth, although his team mate Rubens Barrichello managed to haul himself into Q2. Kazuki Nakajima couldn’t improve his time on his final run and stayed in seventeenth while Coulthard languishes in sixteenth.
Part two of qualifying was much the same, with Lewis Hamilton going fastest and once again 0.4s ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. However, the Ferrari of Felipe Massa was looking a little stronger and the Brazilian managed to close the margin to just 0.2s. Fernando Alonso was once again in the mix and Kovalainen ran well, indicating a possible front-row lockout by the McLaren team.
Those failing to get any further in qualifying were the second Williams of Nico Rosberg, Rubens Barrichello (who will start fourteenth) and Timo Glock in the Toyota. Perhaps surprisingly Robert Kubica did not get any further either, the Polish driver struggling and only getting as far as twelfth. Nelson Piquet Jr did relatively well to get into eleventh, although compared to his team mate the rookie Renault driver is still off the pace. In Q2, Piquet Jr was over 0.3s shy of Fernando Alonso.
As with Japan, not all the drivers went out early and Lewis Hamilton didn’t leave his garage until a minute had passed. However, with only ten minutes to complete all the runs, it wasn’t long before the track saw some action. Impressively, both Scuderia Toro Rossos represented Red Bull in the most important stage of qualifying again, and Mark Webber was also in the top ten. From the start it was clear that Ferrari had hidden some of their pace, or had made some changes and found their groove. Either way, both Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen suddenly looked much stronger and more challenging to McLaren.
Conversely, Heikki Kovalainen seemed to slip down in pace and the Finnish driver eventually ended his day in fifth. With both Ferraris ahead of him, there isn’t much Kovalainen can do to assist his team mate in the fight for the title. Mark Webber qualified sixth, which is actually pretty good for the Red Bull car. However, Webber’s engine expired dramatically during Free Practice Three and the team were forced to replace it. Therefore, Webber will receive a ten grid slot penalty and will start tomorrow’s race in sixteenth, just behind his team mate.
Nick Heidfeld did an okay job for BMW and got himself in seventh, although despite the team saying they will push for the titles, the evidence thus far doesn’t look too promising. Sebastian Vettel lines up in eighth, ahead of Jarno Trulli and team mate Sebastien Bourdais. When the final laps were sung out, it was the Ferraris who looked unbeatable until Hamilton set a quite stunning middle sector and clinched pole by 0.3s.
The drivers championship could be won and lost tomorrow, but with both Ferrari and McLaren looking as strong as each other, it is likely to go on until the final race of the year in Brazil. Lewis Hamilton will be desperate to win and give himself a margin over Felipe Massa, but if the Briton performs like he did in Japan, it could all be over by lap two. Needless to say, the Chinese Grand Prix is going to be interesting and despite a slow start to the weekend for BlogF1, we’ll be there bright and early on Sunday morning.