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Lewis Hamilton (1:34.484) won pole for the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix in a set of qualifying sessions marked mainly by teams saving tyres for the race, but that ended with a single-lap shootout for pole. Kimi Raikkonen qualified second, with Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg completing the front two starting rows. Sebastian Vettel qualified ninth and will start on the harder, medium compound, tyres after aborting all of his Q3 timed laps.  Nico Hulkenberg also did not set a time, but Jenson Button qualified eighth after nursing his own medium tyres across the line.

Q1 started off with little fanfare, as no driver left pit lane until nine minutes had passed in the session. The top ten sorted itself out easily in that session, though getting out of the relegation zone proved impossible for Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Gutierrez. Mark Webber suffered a blow in Q2, parking the car with a fuel pressure issue two thirds of the way through Q2, leaving the Australian unable to move on to Q3, Ricciardo benefited from the extra spot, posting a lap quick enough to move on to Q3. Q3 saw Hamilton’s dominant fast lap in what turned out to be a single lap shootout for all ten drivers after the checkered flag.

Rosberg (1:36.717) and Hamilton seemed to have recovered during the long break, setting the fastest times of the Friday morning practice session at the Shanghai circuit. Webber, Vettel, and Alonso rounded out the top five, though an entire second covered only the top three at the end of the session.

Webber and the Mercedes duo spent much of the morning trading fast laps as all the teams took their typical good time getting out to start the racing weekend. Perez, though, suffered through both the morning and afternoon sessions, losing grip on the pit entry and damaging an old-spec front wing and nose into the barriers at the end of the morning session.

In the afternoon the new McLaren driver bumped across the gravel at Turn 8 and nosed again into the barriers before making his way back to the garage and then the running again.  Massa (1:35.340) took the honors in the afternoon practice, leading Raikkonen, Alonso, Rosberg, and Webber as the fastest five men. Their times were much closer, with just over seven tenths covering that top five.

In further McLaren issues, Button suffered a delaminated tyre and a sixth fastest position in both sessions. Perez was sixteenth fastest, then eleventh. Despite Raikkonen’s fast times, teammate Grosjean continues to complain of a lack of rear downforce in his Lotus, the third Friday in the three races to date in the season.

Alonso (1:35.391) took charge in the final, Saturday morning session, after Rosberg and Hamilton had led in the latter fast lap runs. Massa, Hamilton, Vettel, and Webber completed the top five. In the end, Rosberg couldn’t make his soft tyres work, and set only the fourteenth fastest time.

Q1:
No one hotfooted it out onto the track as the twenty minutes of Q1 began. In fact, it took a shocking nine minutes of the session, as teams fretted about the state of tyres in the warmest session of the weekend to date. Bianchi led the way, with the Toro Rosso drivers and his teammate following. About half the field joined the circuit with nine minutes to go. Early runs by slower cars led to predictable, off the pace laps. Rosberg (1:35.959) finally posted the first competitive time with six and a half minutes remaining. Hamilton quickly pipped his teammate to provisional pole as the rest of the field joined the session.

The Force India drivers were third and fourth fastest with around five minutes to go, on the medium tyres. Raikkonen went third fastest on his first run, only to have Perez go a bit faster. Vettel next posted a time faster than either of them, only to lose his third fastest to Alonso.

The order and times continued to change behind the Mercedes drivers in the final minutes of the session. Massa sat third fastest, then Webber, Alonso, Vettel, Button, Grosjean, Perez, and Hulkenberg the top ten with two to go. Ricciardo, Vergne, Chilton, van der Garde, Pic, and Bottas (who had yet to set a time) were in the relegation zone at that time. Drivers began to pit again with a minute to go, seeing no need to continue degrading tyres.

Bottas soon moved himself up to fifteenth, with time for another lap. That dropped Bianchi into the knockout zone. Ricciardo managed to pop up out of the knockout zone, dropping Bottas and Gutierrez. In the end, Hamilton (1:35.793) had provisional pole at the end of Q1, with Rosberg, Massa, Webber, Alonso, Vettel, Button, Grosjean, Perea, and Hulkenberg the top ten. Raikkonen sat eleventh, with Sutil claiming that the Finn had blocked him.

Knocked Out in Q1:
17. Valtteri Bottas
18. Esteban Gutierrez
19. Jules Bianchi
20. Max Chilton
21. Charles Pic
22. Giedo van der Garde

Q2:
Vettel led the way onto the track to begin the fifteen minutes of Q2, a minute into the session. Other drivers soon followed, leaving only a third of those still running in the garage with eleven minutes remaining. Vettel’s first time was a half second off Hamilton’s fastest time in Q1. Webber slotted in behind his teammate and faster than Hulkenberg and Sutil’s times. Di Resta split them, moments before Alonso posted the fastest lap of the session. Massa was two hundredths slower than Vettel.

At halfway, Alonso led Vettel, Massa, di Resta, and Webber the top five. Only Grosjean remained in the garage, though the entirety of the knockout zone had yet to set times. Webber parked his Red Bull in the marshal stand at the hairpin, having likely run out of fuel. His fifth fastest lap time (1:36.679) seemed unlikely to get him through to Q3. Meanwhile, Raikkonen then Rosberg pipped Alonso to provisional pole.

Most drivers were pitting for fresh tyres with five minutes to go, as Hamilton’s first timed lap (1:35.078) put him fastest, by a half second on his teammate. Grosjean remained in the Lotus garage. Verge in fourteenth was the first to rejoin with three minutes to go, followed by Hulkenberg in ninth. Ricciardo, Sutil, Perez, Vergne, Maldonado, and Grosjean were all in the relegation zone and heading back out onto the track with three minutes to go. Hamilton, Rosberg, and Raikkonen all remained in the garage, feeling safe with their posted times.

All twelve cars on track crossed the line before the checkered, leaving room for a single timed lap at the end of Q2. Vergne moved up to tenth from fourteenth, only to have Maldonado drop him out, who then did so himself. Ricciardo move up to sixth, dropping Hulkenberg to seventh.

Vettel soon split the Mercedes, then Alonso went faster than the German. Massa went fourth as Button moved up to sixth from sixteenth. In the end, Hamilton (1:35.078) retained his top spot, with Alonso, Vettel, Massa, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Button, Grosjean, Ricciardo, and Hulkenberg moving on to fight for pole in Q3.

Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Paul di Resta
12. Sergio Perez
13. Adrian Sutil
14. Mark Webber
15. Pastor Maldonado
16. Jean-Eric Vergne

Q3:
Vettel was first out again for the ten minutes of Q3. He did not complete a timed lap, setting slow sector times before returning to the garage. He was the only driver to post sector times, four minutes into the session. Time continued to tick away without any on-track action until the mad dash out of the garage with two and a half minutes to go. Raikkonen led the way, though Vettel went out on the medium compound.

All drivers managed to cross the line before the checkered flag, with Button the last man to start his single flying lap. Raikkonen’s time put him fastest, with a 1:34.761, then the fastest time of the weekend. Rosberg could not beat him, having gone wide through the final corner, but Hamilton did, by three tenths.

Alonso slotted into third. Massa managed only fifth. Vettel did not set a time, having lost it into the hairpin. Button went very, very slowly, managing to post a time and start ahead of Vettel. Hulkenberg also did not post a time. Hamilton’s lap was six tenths faster than his fastest time in Q2, giving him his first pole for Mercedes.

Final Qualifying Times for the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix:

  Driver Team Time Laps
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:34.484 9
2. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:34.761 11
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:34.788 12
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:34.861 9
5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:34.933 12
6. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:35.364 9
7. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:35.998 15
8. Jenson Button McLaren 2:05.673 12
9. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull no time 13
10. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber no time 11
11. Paul di Resta Force India 1:36.287 9
12. Sergio Perez McLaren 1:36.314 10
13. Adrian Sutil Force India 1:36.405 11
14. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:36.679 6
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:37.139 10
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:37.199 12
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:37.769 3
18. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:37.990 5
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:38.780 6
20. Max Chilton Marussia 1:39.537 3
21. Charles Pic Caterham 1:39.614 6
22. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:39.660 6
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  • rickfromsyd

    We might see Ricciardo win his first podium this grand prix, providing his car doesn’t fall apart.

    • tom

      Sure, we might see that, but I seriously doubt it. Lotus, Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull are all certainly faster. Sure, the Red Bulls start from behind, but it would still be a tall order to finish in front of them, let alone those other three teams. McLaren also seems to have a much better race pace this year than their qualifying implies, so I see at least Button ahead as well and Hülkenberg is in a similarly quick car as Daniel, probably quicker thanks to its tire economy and he starts on the medium compound. And then we have seen the Force Indias showing a lot of promise in the first two races…

      So in short, unless some of the front runners suffer DNFs, I think Ricciardo will lose positions during the race rather than win them.

      • mjidris

        Agreed. This was a great qualifying session for Riccardo and Torro Rosso, but as far as the race goes, I don’t think that he has the pace or the car to seriously maintain his position or even gain some. If he does end up gaining positions, the it will be a pleasant surprise, however, he should just take his qualifying success and try to score as many points as he possibly can in China.

  • rickfromsyd

    We might see Daniel win his first podium this grand prix, providing his car doesn’t fall apart.

  • tom

    So who was it again who thought that Lewis made a grave error when he signed for Mercedes…?

    • nofahz

      Ditto

    • Steven

      Yep! Where are they?

  • Como ha indicado Alonso los domingos siempre obtienen mejores resultados que los sábados, así que mañana será una carrera muy disputada.
    Para el que no puedo verla en directo por televisión puedes seguirlo a través del móvil con Livesports24 F1 Racing http://bit.ly/ZQFm1k

  • johnnys

    It seems that Williams is totally lost and half of torro rosso and sauber are asleep at the switch.

  • Clutchless

    If the teams are deciding to only take 1 flying lap per qualifying session than the F1 should oblige and shorten the times they have out on the circuit.

    Why not go from 20 minutes to 10 in Q1, 10 minutes for Q2 and 5 minutes for Q3. I can’t see the attraction of watching drivers sit in their cars for more than half the session IT’S BORING! It feels like the old qualifying rules where drivers took one flying lap and that was it.

    This may have been the first time in recent memory that no times had been set in Q3 before the checkered flag had waived, is that the “spicing up of the show” F1 is looking for?

    At least the race will be exciting because Pirelli has made a tyre (at Bernie’s request) that only lasts for a handful of laps.

    • UAN

      This is the first race in how many years the teams have decided to wait before going out on qualifying runs due to very unique and extreme circumstances and, based just on this one instance, the F1A should cut qualifying times in half? Really?

      You do remember in Malaysia (the last race) that teams went out and ran pretty much the entire qualifying sessions?

    • mjidris

      I disagree, I do not think that they should shorten times. The teams were sitting in the garages to preserve the tires. If we actually had tires that didn’t fall apart in a few laps, then we would see the teams running more laps to try and set fastest times.

      The teams will always do what is in their best interest. The FIA should stop trying to make F1 “more interesting” by throwing in crappy tires.

  • AntioBob

    I’m surprised no one has commented on the issue of Vettel’s non contested Q3 run. I find it ironic that the team and driver that claim to “just be racers” are so easily discouraged by the relative pace of Mercedes and Ferrari. In the end he gets cute with strategy. I’m certainly aware that this is a reasonable strategy decision… but it is bargaining from a position of weakness. It feels no less an affront to the sporting nature to have Q3 play out in such a manner than to have a team protect points with an engineered finishing order.

    • mjidris

      I really felt that they should have at least run one good lap so that they could gain a couple positions instead of just starting 9th on the grid.

      • cconf1

        He didn’t even have to put in a good lap. Jenson just cruised around, but he crossed the line, so he picks up 2 easy grid spots.

        Also, hadn’t seen it mentioned here, but Webber was DQ’d, so he gets to start from the back.

  • Matt

    I have a quick question when more than 1 driver doesn’t post a time in Q3 or I suppose Q2 for that matter how is the “tie” broken? Their time from the previous qualifying session? Position in the championship?

    • VMR

      the quali position for drivers without a complete lap time in a session is determined through their speed in the sectors set during the out/in laps in that session. Vettel’s sector times were faster than Hulkenberg’s. That’s why Vettel went out early, so make sure he at least had a sector or two to bank in case others didn’t go out at all.
      Sorry I didn’t make that clear in the article!

  • AntioBob

    By the way. same goes for McLaren, but it’s much easier to forgive a midfield team for maximizing their surprise position at the bottom of Q3. I mean after all, it not like McLaren can compete with the likes of Ricciardo in the Torro Rosso.

  • dude

    Okay Pirelli, thanks for the exciting qualifying. Looking forward to an eventful race with lots of tyres saving and plentiful replays of DRS overtakes.

    • AntioBob

      Yeah, I love that slow mo shot of a DRS overtake. It’s almost as exciting as watching golfers walking the fairway after their tee shot at the Masters. What a riveting weekend ahead! Put the kettle on I need some chamomile.