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Qualifying - Hamilton takes dominant wet-weather pole in China

19 Apr 2014

Lewis Hamilton romped to his third pole position of the season with a sublime performance in a rain-drenched qualifying session in Shanghai on Saturday afternoon.

The Mercedes star, who now has more poles than any other British driver, was over half a second quicker than Daniel Ricciardo, with the Australian’s Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel pipping the spinning Mercedes of Nico Rosberg to third.

The weather played a part all through the session and was even worse at the start of Q1 than it had been during FP3 earlier in the day, and as a result everyone started out on Pirelli’s blue-marked full-wet tyres. Only Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne, and the Caterham drivers ventured out on the green-marked intermediate rubber.

As Hamilton set the fastest time from Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Vettel, Esteban Gutierrez was the first driver not to make it through to Q2, lapping his Sauber in 1m 58.988s for 17th ahead of Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi and Marussia’s Jules Bianchi. The Japanese driver recorded 1m 59.260s to the Frenchman’s 1m 59.326s, while further back the second Caterham of Marcus Ericsson edged ahead of the second Marussia of Max Chilton, 2m 00.646s to 2m 00.865s.

Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, already facing a five-place grid penalty for an infringement at the previous race in Bahrain, failed to make it out of the garage because of technical problems and will thus start - at the stewards’ discretion - in 22nd.

Conditions had improved a little by Q2, prompting wholesale switches to the intermediates. Again Hamilton dominated, by four-tenths from Vettel, but this time there were a host of big names whose final efforts to get into Q3 fell short.

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was 11th on 1m 56.860s, 0.013s off Hulkenberg, while Jenson Button’s final improvement in the McLaren to 1m 56.963s wasn’t enough to better 12th. Daniil Kvyat was 13th for Toro Rosso on 1m 57.289s ahead of Adrian Sutil’s Sauber on 1m 57.393s, while the second McLaren of Kevin Magnussen couldn’t get below 1m 57.675s for 15th. Force India’s Sergio Perez rounded out the Q2 runners with 1m 58.264s good enough for only 16th.

Intermediates were again the fare for Q3, though Bottas opted initially for full-wet rubber. Hamilton set the pace with a lap of 1m 54.348s, then trimmed that to 1m 53.860s to settle pole easily. But as Rosberg struggled and later spun at Turn 16 trying to go faster than his initial 1m 55.143s, first Vettel with 1m 54.981s and then 1m 54.960s, and then Ricciardo with 1m 54.864s and then 1m 54.455s moved ahead of the second Silver Arrow.

Behind them a late improvement moved Fernando Alonso to a distant fifth for Ferrari on 1m 55.637s as Felipe Massa put his Williams ahead of team mate Valtteri Bottas’ with 1m 56.147s to 1m 56.282s. That bumped Hulkenberg’s Force India down to eighth on 1m 56.366s, as Vergne’s Toro Rosso jumped Romain Grosjean’s significantly improved Lotus, with 1m 56.773s to 1m 57.079s.

Thus the grid for Sunday’s race - which is expected to be dry - lines up: Hamilton, Ricciardo; Vettel, Rosberg; Alonso, Massa; Bottas, Hulkenberg; Vergne, Grosjean; Raikkonen, Button; Kvyat, Sutil; Magnussen, Perez; Gutierrez, Kobayashi; Bianchi, Ericsson; Chilton, Maldonado.