Sebastian Vettel clinched his fourth career pole in China after pipping Kimi Raikkonen by less than a tenth of a second at the Shanghai International Circuit.

Raikkonen was on provisional pole once again heading into the final flying laps of Q3, but Vettel went quickest of all in the third and final sector to bag the 52nd pole of his career.

It’s the first time Vettel has secured back-to-back pole positions in Ferrari red, and for the first time since Brazil 2013.

Mercedes were outpaced and outclassed by the Scuderia, but Valtteri Bottas got the better of Lewis Hamilton and the Silver Arrows duo will line up P3 and P4 respectively on Sunday’s grid.

Both Mercedes struggled to heat their tyres in the cold climate of China, leading to both drivers setting their final times on the soft Pirellis, and will start the race surrounded by drivers on the ultrasoft compound.

Hamilton aborted his final Q3 lap and was there for taking by Red Bull, but Max Verstappen failed to capitalise, falling short in P5 by an agonising 0.012s. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo overcame an engine replacement to line up P6 after drama with an engine replacement and at one point looked like missing the session entirely.

Nico Hulkenberg secured his sixth successive P7 spot, with Sergio Perez placing his car between the two Renaults in P8. Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean’s Haas completed the top ten.

There was no sign of Ricciardo as the pit lane light when green for the start of Q1. The Australian suffered a suspected turbo issue in FP3 and a new power unit change was delayed by Renault not being able to provide a fully built-up engine for the Red Bull team.

Then, in the nick of time, Ricciardo was ready to sneak one flying lap in after an excellent job from his pit crew. He managed to avoid the elimination zone just a tenth of a second.

https://twitter.com/F1/status/985071630010368001

Unable to progress were the usual suspects at Williams and Sauber. Marcus Ericsson’s afternoon went from bad to worse after the qualifying session, being handed a five-place grid penalty for failing to slow under yellow flags. Due to the Swede’s starting position of P20 and last, it was a hollow penalty.

Pierre Gasly’s Bahrain high was replaced with a Chinese hangover as he failed to escape Q1 before the time limit and with line up in P17, one place behind Sergei Sirotkin’s Williams, and a real reality check for Toro Rosso.

Both Mercedes and Ferrari started Q2 with soft tyres on both cars and Raikkonen managed to nip ahead of Vettel by 0.099 seconds after the first hot laps of the session.

With race tyres in mind, a split in strategy looked as if it was emerging as Ferrari came back for the final flying lap in Q2 with Raikkonen and Vettel swapping to the ultrasofts. Mercedes staying loyal to the softs with a longer first stint on the agenda for Sunday.

Hamilton suddenly shot up to P1, the first driver to drop in the 1:31 mark and Bottas also improved to P2, just a tenth behind.

Ferrari, though, played the bluff on the ultras, with neither Raikkonen and Vettel completing their final laps and heading back into the pits. They, like Mercedes, will start Sunday’s race on the soft tyres.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was eliminated in Q2 for the first time this season after a poor middle sector on his final lap prevented him from improving.

It was a double knock-out for McLaren with Alonso and Vandoorne finishing in P13 and P14 respectively. Both drivers gave each other a tow on the long back straight, but it wasn’t enough to haul them into Q2.

Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley was slowest in Q2 and ended up P15, just under 0.3s slower than Vandoorne.

Attention then turned to Q3, and it was Raikkonen who put himself on provisional pole with a rapid opening flying lap. Teammate Vettel could not match him and was 0.1s down in P2, while Bottas and Hamilton were 0.4s back in P3 and P4 respectively.

Bottas could not improve on his time, while Hamilton aborted his lap and headed straight back to the pits.

Raikkonen found improvement by 0.018 seconds but Vettel, for the second qualifying in succession, got the better of his teammate, pipping him by 0.084 seconds.

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