Sebastian Vettel beats Kimi Raikkonen to China pole position

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SHANGHAI, China -- Sebastian Vettel beat teammate Kimi Raikkonen to pole position by just 0.087s as Ferrari put in a dominant qualifying performance at the Chinese Grand Prix.

Mercedes had no answer to Ferrari's Q3 pace as Raikkonen and then Vettel lit up the timing screens with fastest sectors. Raikkonen looked like the faster of the two Ferraris up until the final sector of his final lap where he made a mistake at Turn 14 and lost pole position to a cleaner, more clinical lap from his teammate.

Vettel's time was a new track record at the Shanghai International Circuit but the four-time champion will be more pleased with the gap to title rivals Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas was 0.530s off Vettel's pole time and beat Lewis Hamilton to third place by 0.050s.

The result was a remarkable turnaround from Friday practice where Mercedes had held a slight edge in one-lap pace and a significant advantage in long-run pace. If the track comes back to Mercedes in the warmer temperatures forecast for Sunday it could set up a fascinating battle as Vettel aims for his third race victory in a row. All four of the drivers on the front two rows used the soft compound tyre in Q2, meaning they will start the race on that set with the likely aim of a one-stop strategy.

Red Bull did not have the pace to clear Q2 on the slower soft compound and will therefore start the race on the faster but less durable hyper-soft. Max Verstappen will line up fifth place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in sixth, who only just made it out on track in Q1 after a turbo failure in final practice resulted in a swift engine change ahead of the start of the session.

Nico Hulkenberg took seventh for Renault at the front of a tight midfield battle, with former teammate Sergio Perez in eighth place for Force India. Carlos Sainz took ninth in the second Renault, 0.287s off his teammate Hulkenberg, with Romain Grosjean tenth in the Haas. Just to underline how tight the battle from tenth to seventh was, Grosjean would have beaten Hulkenberg had he managed to replicate his impressive Q2 lap in Q3.

After showing strong pace throughout the weekend, the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen was eliminated in Q2 after setting a time 0.016s off Sainz at the end of the second session. Esteban Ocon missed out on a place in the top-ten shootout by another 0.071s in the second Force India, but was 0.175s clear of the fastest McLaren of Fernando Alonso.

The situation looked desperate for McLaren as the two teammates attempted to help each other with a slipstream on the one kilometre-long back straight, but at the end of Q2 Alonso was still 0.262s off a place in the top ten. Brendon Hartley secured 15th for Toro Rosso with a time 0.290s off Stoffel Vandoorne's McLaren in 14th.

Sergey Sirotkin missed out on the first Q2 appearance of his career by 0.049s and will start 16th on the grid after setting a time 0.039s faster than Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly, who will start 17th in China after finishing the Bahrain Grand Prix fourth two weeks ago. Sirotkin was 0.223s clear of Williams teammate Lance Stroll who will start 18th after setting a time a tenth of a second clear of Charles Leclerc. The Monegasque rookie was nearly 0.5s clear of teammate Marcus Ericsson despite making mistakes in the final two corners.

Formula 1 Heineken Chinese Grand Prix U.S. coverage presented by Mothers Polish (All times Eastern)

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