(Photo credit: emperornie)
How did qualifying play out?
Facing mixed weather conditions, 19 cars came out in the first minutes of Qualifying One (Q1). The 20th car, Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull, sat in the garage waiting to compete but not looking like it could. As usual, the fastest of the teams made it look easy, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel setting the early benchmarks for Ferrari. Oddly, Mercedes looked a way off the pace.
As the minutes ticked by, the camera focused increasingly on the stricken Red Bull. Suddenly, Danny Ric was in the car - parts were still being added, but the motor was running. Out on the track, some jockeying for positions left the star of Bahrain, Pierre Gasly, in the relegation zone. Then, the miracle happened: Danny Ric has a beating heart and a complete car. The camera follows him nearly the entire lap, which looks incredible, but a scrappy lap time and deep drive into turn 14 cost him, finishing just two-tenths ahead of the drop zone. Predictably, it was the Williams and Saubers joining Gasly on the sidelines.
Showing their ability to learn from the strategy mistake suffered during qualifying last weekend, Ferrari join their nemesis Mercedes in running soft compound tyres on their opening Q2 laps, giving them the same advantage of durable tyres to start the race tomorrow. Both teams make it through but, this time, Mercedes occupy the top two positions. There was a lot of jostling as the cutoff time approached, with Alonso, Ocon and Magnussen posting good enough times to make Q3 before getting bumped in the dying seconds by Perez, Sainz and Grosjean.
The start of Q3 saw two Ferraris, two Red Bulls, two Mercedes, two Renault, one Force India and one Haas take part in the final ten-minute session. After first runs, Ferrari had the front row locked out, with 38-year-old Raikkonen setting the fastest time. The Mercedes pair followed with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in third and fourth positions, respectively. Next were the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. Briefly, a door opened for Red Bull to jump Mercedes when Bottas could not improve his lap time and Hamilton messed up his lap so badly he abandoned it. Alas, it was not to be, neither driver able to better their position. Nor was it for Raikkonen, who improved his provisional pole time only to have it snatched away in heart-breaking fashion at the death by teammate Sebastian Vettel. The difference between the two drivers was only 0.087 seconds. The top three drivers are the same from the previous race with Bottas trailing the Ferraris, Hamilton will start in fourth followed by Verstappen and Ricciardo in fifth and sixth. Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean will round out the top ten places.
Vettel and Raikkonen the two to beat
Ferrari look to be on fire this weekend with Mercedes, and especially Hamilton, looking in disarray and Red Bull not fast enough in a straight line to catch up. If this qualifying session was any sign, the Prancing Horse is very much the marque to beat at the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix.
What did you make of qualifying? Has there been a power shift this season? Can Mercedes beat the Ferraris this weekend? Let us know in the comments below!