(Photo credit: Derrick Noh)
Ferrari are the real deal
After years of qualifying inadequacies and under-performing on a Saturday, the Scuderia have finally made a car that can beat the Mercs. The simplified front suspension on the Ferrari is definitely to Kimi’s liking, and his performances are forcing Vettel to pull out some spectacular laps. To put things into perspective, that's the first time Ferrari have sealed back-to-back front-row lockouts since 2006. And it's their first Chinese GP pole in 14 years!
Since Hamilton took pole position for the season-opener in Australia, Ferrari have held a clear single-lap pace advantage over the world champions. Only when Mercedes turned up their engines for the finale of Q2 to guarantee Hamilton and Bottas progressed on the slower more durable soft tyres, did the W09 appear a match for the Ferrari.
On ultrasofts, Ferrari possess a distinct advantage, with Vettel and Raikkonen able to 'switch on' the faster tyres in a way which Bottas and an out-of-sorts Hamilton can't. As a result, world champion Lewis Hamilton will start a distant fourth after losing out to Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. The Silver Arrows pair were half a second slower than Ferrari in the top ten shootout, with Hamilton abandoning his final lap after a mistake at the penultimate corner.
Sunday is where the points are scored
For several teams, it was clear the focus was on Sunday. Temperatures of just 12 degrees Celsius have made tyre-heating a problem even on a track where degradation is so gruelling. Most cars were fuelling up for three or four laps to get the rubber warm and even running the soft tyre as opposed to the ultrasoft.
But Daniel Ricciardo was the focus of Q1 as the Australian required a total engine rebuild after FP3. He finally got out with just three minutes remaining and is still in the hunt for a win tomorrow.
Mclaren and Williams still struggling
Despite being given a tow by McLaren teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, Fernando Alonso failed to reach the top ten. A McLaren car is still yet to reach Q3 in 2018 although the team's race pace has been better. This is not quite the showing they would have hoped for, However, to give you an example of how tight the midfield is, Gasly, who finished fourth in Bahrain, qualified in 17th for tomorrow’s showdown.
The acute struggles of the beleaguered Williams outfit continued as both Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll fell at the first hurdle for the second successive race while Marcus Ericsson, point scorer in Bahrain just a week ago, also suffered an early exit as he failed to progress beyond Q1. If the season so far is anything to go by, different tracks will suit different midfield teams resulting in some intense racing for the lower constructors' positions.
Will Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari make it three wins in a row or can Mercedes and Red Bull respond in Shanghai? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.