Like the man said, “get in there…!” Three races in to the Big Project and Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes will start tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix from pole position having dominated qualifying this morning. When Hamilton’s move to the over-funded/under-delivering team was announced last year nobody thought it would work out this well, this soon. I’m just trying to work out why Lewis didn’t look very happy about it all.
It was an odd qualifying session. There were suggestions that nobody in Q3 really wanted to qualify on the soft tyres and, until 2.40mins from the end of the session, only Sebastian Vettel had ventured out, on a set of older mediums and not even completed the lap. Would anyone bother? Could it indeed be better to take a chance of starting anywhere in the top ten, just so long as you didn’t have to start on softs?
As it turned out, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg will all start on the mediums, behind seven cars with tanks heavy with fuel running used softs that are expected to be destroyed in their first stint. Of the three on the mediums looking to take advantage, Vettel has the quickest car and the freshest tyres. This was clearly Red Bull tactics, the team making no secret of the fact it did not have the quickest car. Mark Webber’s starting position has yet to be decided. He didn’t make it to Q3, having apparently run out of juice in Q2 in what might prove to be a repeat of Abu Dhabi.
Of the seven drivers who couldn’t resist the urge to set a time in Q3 (and Button who cruised around on his mediums) Hamilton always looked the man most likely. He’ll start next to Raikkonen who had a quiet one, but delivered when required. And although the Lotus – like the McLaren – is running this year’s must-have tech which connects the front and rear suspension, Citroen style, Raikkonen and Lotus aren’t confident for tomorrow, the Lotus E21 having showed itself to be a little hard on its fronts all weekend so far.
Which leaves the Ferraris in third and fifth, with Fernando Alonso lining up ahead of Massa for the first time in five races; the likely source of Lewis’ post-qualifying anxiety. We’ve seen Ferrari perform better in races than Mercedes this year. Nico Rosberg, starting alongside Alonso and ahead of Massa might well need to run interference for his team-mate as Mercedes goes for its first win since China last year when Rosberg broke the team’s duck. You wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.
So the top ten; HAM, RAI, ALO, ROS, MAS, GRO, Daniel Ricciardo, BUT, VET AND HUL. Yeah, Ricciardo running without last year’s dental tracks is finally beginning to repay the faith Red Bull and Toro Rosso showed in him. After a largely invisible 2012 he’s not been gifted the best of chassis’ this year, so today’s performance was impressive and, it has to be said, timely considering all that’s going on at the mother team…
Jules Bianchi starred yet again, Valterri Bottas and Esteban Gutierrez didn’t, both eliminated in Q1. Bottas’ team mate didn’t make it through to Q3, Gutierrez’ did. That won’t be lost on Sergio Perez who also didn’t make Q3 and will start two places behind his ‘old car’ now driven by Hulkenberg. McLaren is narrowing the gap but the car is still seven-tenths off the pace. Not that it worried Jenson Button who was all smiles this morning. What does he know that we don’t? And rather more worryingly, what’s keeping Lewis looking so glum?