Hamilton fastest in China

Lewis Hamilton has secured his first pole position for Mercedes in Shanghai, the site of Mercedes’ last win in Formula One.Hamilton set an untouchable time of 1m 34.484s, some three-tenths faster than closest rival Kimi Räikkönen in his Lotus.Qualifying proved to be a battle of attrition, with no teams appearing willing to risk burning through a set of the delicate soft tyre at the wrong moment.Sebastian Vettel was the only man out on track in the first seven minutes of Q3, banking some sector times in case of the very real possibility most of the top ten elected not to set a time. But eight of the other nine competitors leapt from their garages at once – all but Hülkenberg – to battle for pole.Räikkönen initially set the pace, while Rosberg threatened to topple him before a mistake on the last corner undid his timed lap.Hamilton charged past shortly afterwards to take pole, and couldn’t keep the smile from his face once out of the car.“Incredible feeling. I’m so happy to have our first pole for some time. I’m just ecstatic,” he said, beaming.“The lap was great. The team’s performed well all weekend so far. I hope we can carry that into tomorrow.”However, the pole-sitter again took a swipe at the longevity of the soft Pirelli tyre, predicting it won’t see much running tomorrow evening.“These tyres are very tricky this weekend,” he continued. “Making the option tyre last is almost impossible, so it’s going to be quite a short stint at the beginning.”“Still, I think we have competitive race pace, so I expect a really tough race, but I hope we can maintain position.”The soft tyre saw almost exclusive use during qualifying, with all cars preferring the stability of the medium compound as the race tyre.Kimi Räikkönen will join him at the front of tomorrow’s grid, the Lotus driver back on form after a blip in Malaysia three weeks ago.The Lotus looked threatening in the hands of the iceman all qualifying, his style suited to extracting the most from the rubber.He admitted, however, that the Lotus package remains off the pace when it comes down to raw speed.“I think the gap is still quite big,” he said. “We don’t have that speed right now.”“I think we’re missing downforce in the middle sector. [But] second isn’t too bad, I think it’s the best I’ve been with the team. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”Fernando Alonso will start from third and the clean side of the grid. He looked happy after Q3, Ferrari admitting during the week that the F138’s weakness is in qualifying.“Very, very happy,” he started. “I think the weekend has been good for us.”“The car is responding well. I think we have a good setup for the race as well, which is more important that qualifying.“If everything goes well, we should be able to fight for the podium with both cars, so good news for the team.”Nico Rosberg in fourth split the two Ferraris, with Felipe Massa qualifying fifth-fastest and just two-tenths off his teammates pace.Romain Grosjean complained again of mysterious car issues – now suspected to be a defect in his chassis – but managed the sixth-quickest time nonetheless.The standout result of the session was undoubtedly Daniel Ricciardo, who managed to place his Toro Rosso on the fourth row of the grid in seventh.Ricciardo made it through Q2 on merit, though was the slowest qualifier on the soft tyre during Q3 – to be expected based on the STR’s performance over the past two rounds.Jenson Button will be the highest-placed starter for tomorrow’s race on medium tyres as McLaren attempts a counter-strategy to combat its car’s inherent lack of pace.Surprisingly, Sebastian Vettel was the highest placed Red Bull in ninth after opting not to set a timed lap in exchange for free choice of tyres tomorrow.Vettel was due to set a timed lap on medium tyres, but the team decided the one grid position to be gained over Button wasn’t worth locking in his strategy this early in the weekend.His teammate Mark Webber also had an uncharacteristic qualifying session after his car encountered a fuel pressure problem during Q2, rendering him a sitting duck as his rivals bettered his time.He ended up in P14 and the possibility of a post-qualifying penalty if the stewards deem Red Bull to have underfuelled his car.Nico Hülkenberg will start from tenth after not setting a time.Paul di Resta just missed out on a top ten berth and will start from eleventh on the grid, just ahead of Sergio Perez in P12.Adrian Sutil returned to the scene of the crime, but came away with only the twelfth-fastest time, and will share a grid with Webber’s neutered RBR9.Pastor Maldonado proved that Williams still has some way to go before being competitive, qualifying in fifteenth and just ahead of STR’s Jean-Eric Vergne.Valtteri Bottas was the fastest midfield driver to be eliminated in Q1, while Esteban Gutierrez also found himself too slow to join his teammate in the second qualifying session.Finally, Marussia won the battle of the backmarkers, with Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton outqualifying Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde.The 2013 Formula One Chinese Grand Prix roars into life tomorrow evening at 5PM AEST.

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